Full of good intentions and exciting live music footage, “Free Tibet,” which documents the 1996 San Francisco Tibetan Freedom Concert, is not much different from any rock concert docu that has preceded it. Like the event it captures, the picture seems to be preaching to a generation that doesn’t give a damn about its purpose, which makes the whole experience less inspiring than something like “Woodstock.” The unusual theatrical release schedule (it will play in one city at a time, like a rock tour) should attract teenagers and college students, but majority of pic’s audience will probably be found if or when it screens on MTV or another cable music channel.
Exec produced by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (who’s a devout Buddhist and who came up with the idea for the annual concert), film begins by capturing the preparations for the 1996 concert, which drew more than 100,000 people to S.F.’s Golden Gate Park.
Humorous images are captured of the crowd filing into the park, and, as in most docus of this ilk, there are funny vignettes of musicians taking advantage of a camera crew filming their activities backstage.
Helmer Sarah Pirozek interweaves concert footage with interviews and information abut the current state of Tibetan Buddhism. In this vein, there’s footage of the Dalai Lama addressing Congress, as well as President Clinton’s announcement that he agreed to continue to trade goods with China despite the fact that the Chinese government violates human rights laws in its treatment of Tibetans.
While the snippets concerning Buddhism are undeniably important, they are not presented in a particularly organized or compelling way and will likely breeze by an audience primarily interested in seeing the bands.
On the musical side, the film succeeds. Featured throughout are portions of the performances of artists including Bjork, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Smashing Pumpkins, De La Soul, the Fugees and the Beastie Boys.
The bands sound great and are well presented. But the filmmakers might have featured more than just a couple of full songs from the performers; it’s frustrating to see only snippets from the eclectic lineup.
Tech credits are solid in relation to other similarly themed docus, while the concert lensing by renowned video directors Evan Bernard, Roman Coppola and Spike Jonze (among others) is appropriately frenetic.