Pema Tseden’s ‘Tharlo’ Sweeps International Film Awards

Tibetan screenwriter and filmmaker Pema Tseden — often called the ‘first Tibetan filmmaker’ — recently won big at the 16th annual Tokyo FilmEx awards.

Pema, who was awarded both the Grand Prize and the Student Jury award at the Tokyo film festival for his new film ‘Tharlo’, has garnered numerous international accolades for his latest production. From Bangkok to Beijing, Venice to Hong Kong, Pema has won praise around the globe for his impressive directorship about a shepherd in the big city.

Born to a nomadic family in Trika (Tibetan: Guide) County in the Qinghai region of Amdo province in Tibet, Pema was the only one of three children to complete his education. Despite a disadvantaged childhood, Pema remarkably became the first Tibetan student to study filmmaking at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy on a scholarship from the Trace Foundation. Prior to studying directing, Pema had gone to school for Tibetan literature and even returned to his hometown to teach primary school. Asked why he decided to pursue filmmaking, he stated:

“My friends and I had all seen many movies on Tibetan culture. However, most of these movies don’t portray Tibetan culture, the way of life and value systems properly. We felt that it would be good to see someone who has lived and experienced that culture himself make a movie representing that real experience. Everyone shared that view.”

In 2005, Pema made film history with the release of the first Tibetan-made film in nearly eighty years and the first feature of his filmography career, The Silent Holy Stones. Pema’s second feature film, The Search (2009), became the first-ever Tibetan language film made in Tibet with an entirely Tibetan cast and crew. Nonetheless,Pema publicly commented that the matter was not one to celebrate:

“Lots of people asked me if I felt it was a very glorious and very proud moment. But I felt very sad that it’s taken 100 years to have a Tibetan film. I’m not proud; I think it’s a matter of great sorrow,” he says.

Pema has spoken at length about the exoticization of Tibet in cinema and has broken the stereotypical mold of Tibetans as “mysterious and mystical” sky-dwellers. Challenging problematic and deeply-ingrained western narratives of Tibet, Pema has single-handedly cultivated a new wave of contemporary Tibetan cinema.

It seems only a matter of time before this visionary Tibetan filmmaker starts getting Oscar buzz.

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