A young woman of Tibetan origin, Kalsang Dolma, travels around the land of her fathers showing ordinary people a filmed message from the Dalai Lama preaching non-violence in the passionate, sobering docu “What Remains of Us.” Co-helmed by Francois Prevost and Hugo Latulippe (latter made doc “Bacon: The Film”), pic collects a full spectrum of positions from locals — from peaceful, Buddhist resignation through to more active resistance — to forge a forcefully polemical indictment of Chinese repression in what’s sometimes called the biggest prison in the world. Doc and human rights festivals will be natural homes for this exile-centered work.
Stylistically, pic plays it straight, using classic documentary participant-observer format. An opening voiceover from narrator Dolma explains her background and mission, as she looks out the window of her Lhasa-bound plane at the breathtaking Himalayas. Born in exile to Tibetan parents, but raised largely in India and Quebec, Dolma arrives in her homeland for the first time as the viewers’ and filmmakers’ guide.
Equipped with a portable DVD viewer, Dolma visits a wide variety of Tibetans to show them a message from the Dalai Lama, shot by helmers before docu was even conceived and the inspiration for the whole project. Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile tells his people to adhere to the philosophy of non-violence and continue to have hope, pointing out that things are changing in China and that the nation has many supporters beyond its borders.
As little groups of Tibetans (none named onscreen) crowd round the viewer to watch, the camera watches them back respectfully. Afterward, Dolma interviews them about their thoughts and reactions. Nuns and monks appear not unexpectedly to feel something approaching religious ecstasy after their mini-screening, while some secular viewers, though respectful of the Dalai Lama himself, speak of resistance and feelings of despair. Many cry while watching the film, and even a gaggle of Lhasa streetgirls, deeply ignorant of their country’s own history, clasp their hands in prayer while viewing.
Dolma also visits at the United Nations to sift through the records on Tibet. Archive footage shows Tibetans fleeing down hillsides when the country was invaded in 1950, Chinese soldiers violently attacking monks, and the student facing off a tank in Tianemen Square.
Helmer Prevost, a practicing doctor as well as a filmmaker, and the more filmmaking experienced Latulippe (who also made docu “Voyage to the North of the World” about painter Real Berard) toiled over this project for eight years, and, although film looks as if it’s all constructed from a single journey, according to press information was actually shot over four separate trips to Tibet with Dolma. Editing seamlessly coheres episodic story.
Lensing is fine for digi-shot work, but nothing special given that this is a landscape as photogenic as they come. Prospects for distribution could be improved with transfer to film.