Protection of 'Tibet' subjects key for filmmakers

TORONTO — If they were looking for publicity, they found it.

If they were looking to protect the identities of the subjects in “Tibet: What Remains of Us,” a documentary about a message from the Dalai Lama smuggled into Tibet, they failed.

The world preem played to a full house and standing ovation at Hot Docs Toronto Intl. Festival on Tuesday, after widely publicized security measures had moviegoers buzzing in advance.

Producer and co-helmer Francois Prevost demanded the security, fearing that auds might capture images of the doc’s subjects that could help the Chinese authorities identify them. Images of the Dalai Lama are illegal in Tibet, and the subjects could be jailed for participating.

Guards at the theater zapped auds with metal detectors or checked bags, and some were asked to turn off their cellphones. Many cinemagoers walked in unchecked. However, plain-clothes security men with night-vision goggles were said to be on hand.

The film, directed by Prevost and Hugo Latulippe, follows Kalsang Dolma, an Indian-born, Canadian-raised woman of Tibetan heritage, who smuggles a digital camera and player into Tibet. She covertly shows Tibetans a video message from the Dalai Lama, the first many had seen since he was exiled in 1950 after China invaded the country, and films their response.

The filmmakers promised the Tibetans they would protect their identities, but have not pixilated out faces on screen. Prevost and Dolma said on Monday they had considered blurring, but that would make a less powerful film.

Asked how they planned to distrib the doc, while keeping it out of the hands of Chinese officials, Prevost explained,”We’re going to see what the public and media reaction is” to the security measures before proceeding.

However, the problem will come up again when the doc is shown in next month’s Cannes film fest Critics Week.

“The producers have some hard decisions,” said Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald. “Do they intend to have (the doc) released? It seems it would be impossible to protect them (the Tibetans) without blurring their faces.”

He admitted he wasn’t “initially thrilled” at having to increase security measures at the screening. “But we were happy to oblige once the level of danger that these people were in became apparent to us. We did what we could to protect them during this screening.”

The Dalai Lama is, coincidentally, on a tour of Canada.

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