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Award-Winning Director Tenzin Tsetan Choklay brings his film to IU

By Shahlo Seidmedova

On Friday, November 11, the film “Bringing Tibet Home” was screened at Woodburn Hall in IMU followed by a Q&A session with the director, Tenzin Tsetan Choklay. Choklay is a New York based Tibetan filmmaker who won the “Emerging Director Award” at the 2014 Asian American International Film Festival in New York City.

The film is a documentary about Tenzing Rigdol, whose terminally ill father wishes he could step foot one last time on Tibetan soil. The elderly refugee dies in New York before seeing his homeland one last time. Tenzing Rigdol, moved and inspired by his father’s last wish, decides that there are hundreds of other Tibetan refugees who have the same dream as his late father. To that end, Tenzing sets out on an adventure to bring Tibet to refugees in India. His goal was to bring 20,000 kilograms of Tibetan soil through the Himalayas to Dharamsala.

Choklay, with his camera, travels with Tenzing Rigdol to Tibet. Tenzing tries to involve as few people as possible so that they will not get into trouble with the Chinese government. After weeks of trials and tribulations, while waiting in Nepal, they succeed in transporting the soil over the river in 2011. Tenzing’s final artwork, named “Our Land, Our People,” is an installation of soil spread on stage so that the Tibetan people in exile can walk on their land. The installation was unmoved for three days in Dharamsala, after which people could take portions of soil to their homes.

After the viewing, when asked by the audience why the installation was not kept as a permanent item of remembrance, the director replied that the intact installation would capture people’s hope of returning to Tibet in its permanency, and that was not the message that Tenzing wanted to convey. Instead, the soil was taken for planting or for making medallions.

Tenzing compared the journey that the Tibetan soil had taken to the life of Tibetan people in exile: illegal border crossings full of risks and danger. On the opening day of the art installation, the Dalai Lama welcomed Tenzing in his residence. Tenzing brought some soil on the tray for the Dalai Lama, who inscribed “Bhod” (Tibet) with his fingers. The Dalai Lama was only 24 years old in 1959 when he had to flee Tibet in search of freedom in exile.