J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

SR ’15: Plundering Tibet (short doc)

This film was made possible by Google Earth and made necessary by the Chinese Communist Government. Most people of good conscious understand the occupying Chinese powers have sharply curtailed Tibet’s political and religious freedoms. However, the extent to which state-backed enterprises are currently despoiling the Tibetan environment remains a largely under-reported story. Canadian filmmaker Michael Buckley concisely and cogently exposes this systematic abuse in the short documentary Plundering Tibet (trailer here), a selection of the upcoming 2015 Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York.

Obviously, it is difficult to gain access to Tibet, especially if you have a history of speaking out against the Communist occupation (and if you don’t, perhaps you should ask yourself why not?). Even for those already within the country, many of the pertinent sites are forbiddingly remote. That had provided them a measure of protection, but with advances in technology, Chinese consortiums are now better able to access and extract remote mineral reserves. In many cases, like the recently discovered lithium deposits, the rapidly escalating value of Tibet’s natural resources now more than covers the cost and effort involved in their appropriation.

Needless to say, Tibetans receive no compensation from such plundering. That would be bad enough, in a conventionally venal way. However, Tibetan Buddhism celebrates the divine in the natural world and specifically recognizes many of these sites as sacred holy places. This is not simply exploitation. It also constitutes desecration.

Buckley lucidly but forcefully establishes the full significance of China’s policies of plunder, highlighting several especially egregious cases. Given his reliance on Google Earth, the look and the feel of the film is sometimes comparatively less cinematic than the standard issue-oriented documentary, but what choice did he have? At least he is able to illustrate his indictment with visual evidence. As a result, the film is quite convincing.


What is happening in Tibet is crime. Even those who do not consider themselves environmentalists should be alarmed by the state-sponsored defilement, out of respect for Tibetan cultural and religious traditions. One of the clear highlights of the Socially Relevant Film Festival (and one of the few selections mercifully not trying to gin up false pity and outrage for the “Palestinians”), Plundering Tibet screens this Tuesday (3/17) at the Maysles Cinema.

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