Review: ‘Fire Under the Snow’

Well-crafted docu "Fire Under the Snow" concerns septuagenarian Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso, who, imprisoned and tortured for 33 years, became a rallying cry for his country's liberation.

Well-crafted docu “Fire Under the Snow” concerns septuagenarian Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso, who, imprisoned and tortured for 33 years, became a rallying cry for his country’s liberation. New York-based filmmaker Makoto Sasa contrasts the horror of the story and the serenity of its teller for dramatic impact. Now perched high atop a mountain in India, Gyatso asserts his faith that if people knew the injustice he and his countrymen endure, they would end it; Sasa then proceeds to illustrate that injustice and the world’s reaction to it. Recent, well-publicized anti-Olympic Games brouhaha assures pic longevity in fest and educational play.

Helmer Sasa intersperses Gyatso’s calm remembrance of seemingly endless torture and starvation with newsreel footage of civil unrest and Chinese brutality. She bookends Gyatso’s three-decades-long ordeal with coverage of the indefatigable monk’s worldwide activism: He participates in marches and demonstrations with the same calm deliberation he invests in making tea or in matter-of-factly recounting the loss of all his teeth via cattle prod. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Gyatso leads a hunger strike to protest China’s hosting of the 2008 games, but economics trump human rights yet again.

Fire Under the Snow



An Imakoko Media production, in association with Argot Pictures, Surla Films. (International sales: Surla Films, New York.) Produced by Makoto Sasa. Co-producers, Jim Browne, Vladan Nikolic. Directed by Makoto Sasa. Written by Sasa, Aaron Mendez.


Camera (B&W/color, HD), Vladimir Subotic; editor, Milica Zec. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 25, 2008. English, Tibetan dialogue. Running time: 75 MIN.


Palden Gyatso, Manfred Nowak, Lawrence Gerstein, Tenzin Tsundue, Ana Adhe, Lobsang Khenrab.

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