Ever since producing “Little Buddha,” Jeremy Thomas has nurtured a special connection with Tibetan Buddhist filmmakers. He acted as exec producer on Khyentse Norbu‘s debut “The Cup” as well as his sophomore pic, “Travellers and Magicians.” Both films were sold through Thomas’ sales company, HanWay Films.

Now Thomas has backed another first-time feature, “Dreaming Lhasa,” an emotional thriller about the exiled Tibetan community in India. “Dreaming Lhasa” was shot late last year, with no publicity, in and around Dharamsala, home to the exiled Dalai Lama and the spiritual and political focus of the Tibetan diaspora.

It’s written by Tenzing Sonam, who directed with his wife, Ritu Sarin. They previously made several docs, including “The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche,” which followed the story of a child identified as a reborn Buddhist saint; and “The Shadow Circus,” about the CIA-backed resistance to the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Thomas is one of several individuals who contributed toward the $500,000 budget on “Dreaming Lhasa.” Once again, HanWay will be handling sales.

It’s the story of a 30-year-old Tibetan woman who has grown up in New York, but returns to Dharamsala to make a film about the exile community and to escape her crumbling personal life back in Gotham.

She hooks up with a disaffected local who spends his time cybersurfing and chasing Western girls; and a mysterious ex-monk recently escaped from political imprisonment by the Chinese. Together they end up on a quest to find a CIA-trained resistance fighter who has been missing for 15 years.

Weak pix blur U.K. Focus

“Very well organized, and a complete waste of time.” The blunt verdict of Dutch distrib San Fu Maltha sums up the view of buyers who attended the first edition of the U.K. London Film Focus, the new sales showcase for British movies, which took place June 30-July 2 at the National Film Theater.

“The problem is the product wasn’t good enough,” Maltha expands. Fine Line’s Alexandra Rossi agrees: “It’s a great idea, they got lots of really high-profile buyers there, but next time they should show some good movies.”

The cancellation of Peter Richardson‘s “Churchill, The Hollywood Years,” one of the few titles guaranteed a decent theatrical release in the U.K., weakened an already thin lineup.

Some appreciated the opportunity to catch up with the obscure British movies that they don’t normally have the time to see at markets. Jorge Tuca of Spain’s Filmax, said, “The screenings were very useful, since they focussed attention on films which would normally be lost in larger events.” But tellingly, he didn’t actually buy any of them.

BAFTA writes new chapter

The British Academy of Film & Television Arts is hoping to introduce chapter voting for the first time at next year’s film awards, bringing its system a bit closer to that of the Oscars.

Until now, the BAFTA short lists have been decided by a full membership vote, and then the winners picked by specialist juries — except in the case of best film and the four acting awards, which are voted by all the members.

But the successful experiment with online voting over the past couple of years has created the potential for a much more flexible system. BAFTA now is looking at ways to replace the jury round with a wider poll among all practitioners in each category. The nominees still will be selected by the whole membership, but the prize for editing, for example, could be decided by all the editors on BAFTA’s books.

No chair for Hoon

In the end, although many in the industry would have backed her, film banker Premilla Hoon was not a candidate to be the next chair of the U.K. Film Council — a job that went last week to UIP topper Stewart Till. Hoon did apply, but quickly realized she couldn’t devote the necessary time alongside her job at Societe Generale. So she told officials she would like to be considered for the board only. She has since chaired an advisory committee on the proposed new production tax credit, and it would be a big surprise if she were not among the five new FC board members to be appointed in October.