×

Industry, Rights Groups Seek Explanation for Arrest of Tibet’s Pema Tseden

Filmmakers and human rights groups are seeking answers from the Chinese authorities after award-winning Tibetan director Pema Tseden (“Silent Holy Stones”) was arrested and brutalized.

The China Film Director’s Guild said Tseden was taken away by the police at Xining airport in China’s Qinghai province on June 25 and was held in police custody.

On the afternoon of June 27, the director was admitted to the hospital, according to the guild.

The guild reported that Tseden (aka Wanmacaidan) was held for “disrupting social order.” Other sources suggest that his offence was to have forgotten a piece of luggage in the departure hall.

“We are very concerned about the reasons why this incident took place and how it will develop. We call for the authorities to respond to the society’s demands swiftly and reveal all the details, including the reasons why the police had to [take away Tseden] forcibly and whether unnecessary violence was involved,” the guild said in a statement.

It is not immediately clear whether Tseden’s arrest is related to his work as a director. He has made films in Tibetan and tells stories about Tibetan culture.

Tseden’s arrest raises questions about whether, under China’s current crackdown on freedom of expression, stories highlighting Tibetan culture are now being interpreted as separatist.

“(President Xi Jinping’s increasing control over ideology) has been carried over into the artistic realm. To what extent will artists have freedom to produce works?” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told Variety.

“This is certainly not an ordinary criminal case as he was taken away to another place. It is suspicious,” veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said. “But at this point we don’t know the actual cause for the arrest.”

Lau said the fact that Tseden is internationally famous could also have contributed to his troubles. “The more famous you are internationally, the greater the threat you are to China. Look at Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei,” he said.

Tseden’s 2015 comedy “Tharlo” premiered in Venice’s Orrizonte section and won multiple international awards, including the Grand Prize at Tokyo Filmex and best adapted screenplay at the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan.

Tharlo is the name of a Tibetan shepherd character who is search for his identity. “In Tibetan areas, this kind of case is still very common,” Tseden told AFP in 2015.

China’s Sina reported that Tseden lives in Beijing and went to Xining to promote a new film. His arrest was not reported until the news was leaked on social media a few days later. Sina published photos of the director’s hand and wrist covered with bruises and injuries, allegedly caused by the police during the arrests.

Tseden suffers from chronic illness and his health conditions during the detention was worrying, the guild said.

Tseden’s friend, filmmaker and sound designer Dorjee Tsering, exposed the details of Tseden’s arrest and conditions on his Weibo account. “The airport police used fetters to detain him,” he wrote, adding that the director suffered from dizziness and felt ill during the detention. But his posting was swiftly removed. Director Jia Zhangke also expressed concern on his Weibo page.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel

    Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel to Head Film Department

    Participant Media has named industry veterans Anikah McLaren and Robert Kessel as co-heads of the company’s film department with the titles of executive vice president. Both executives will report together to Participant CEO David Linde, who made the announcement Thursday. McLaren joins Participant having most recently served as a production executive for Fox Searchlight Pictures. [...]

  • 'The Son' Review: Bosnian Family Drama

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'The Son'

    It is a mixed blessing to be born in the aftermath of a war. On the one hand, you never have to experience the terror and suffering your parents did; on the other, you grow up with your own personal crises forever made to feel smaller by comparison. That, at least, is the frustration driving [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: Jennifer Lopez 'Hustlers' Heading for $25 Million Launch

    STX Entertainment’s “Hustlers,” a comedic thriller about strip-club employees seeking revenge, is expected to earn $25 million when it opens on Sept. 13, according to early tracking. The movie — starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B and Lizzo — will debut alongside Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch.” The drama, based on [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Lays Off 35 Corporate Staffers

    AMC Entertainment has laid off 35 corporate staffers and will not fill an additional 15 open jobs. The Kansas-based chain made the announcement Thursday as part of a previously announced “profit improvement plan” intended to achieve operating and administrative efficiencies. AMC, which operates more than 10,000 movie screens, had disclosed the plan on Aug. 8 [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Take Me Somewhere Nice review

    Ena Sendijarevic on Migration, Identity and the Question of Belonging

    Bosnian filmmaker Ena Sendijarević had an auspicious debut with “Import,” a short film which world premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2016. Drawing on her own family’s personal history, the Amsterdam-based director crafted an idiosyncratic tale about a family of Bosnian refugees trying to make a new home in the Netherlands. With her feature debut, [...]

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

    Haugesund Prizes ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ ‘Him,’ ‘Ballon’

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Celine Sciamma’s intellectually dexterous, bittersweet love tale “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has claimed another heart, taking home The Norwegian Film-Critics’ Prize at the Haugesund Film Festival’s closing night on Thursday. The festival, which runs over August 17-23, capped its 47th edition with a screening of André Løyning and Kristian Landmark’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content