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Free Tibet Reviews

In the hard-hitting journalistic tradition of MTV News, Sara Pirozek's depressing document of the 1996 First Tibetan Freedom Concert knits together badly shot festival footage, interviews with organizers and activists, horrifying newsreels of tortured Buddhist monks and nuns, and a brief history of Tibet's woes. None of the material is particularly well organized or enlightening, except, perhaps, for those who've spent the greater part of their life watching nothing but music videos. Organized by the non-profit Milarepa Fund (cofounded by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch), the Freedom Concert featured 20 bands (mostly from the rap and alternative charts) and monks in tents chanting and practicing the ancient art of sand painting, all in the hope of raising awareness of Tibet's misery under Chinese occupation. The event was considered a success, and has become an annual event. Guess you had to be there. Only a handful of acts (blues legends Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker, Bjork) generate any excitement; the rest of the performances range from so-so (Sonic Youth, Fugees) to awful (Beastie Boys). Between acts, various rock pundits weigh in: As an Icelander with hair dyed the color of diet pineapple soda, Bjork feels a special camaraderie with the Tibetans; Yoko Ono thinks it's just beautiful that the world is starting to care about the "Oriental people"; Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan opines that three years probably feels a lot longer when you're being oppressed; and his bandmate James Iha sadly admits that the festival is "about the best dumb rock stars can do." Even sadder, the film's most memorable moments come from the frankly ignorant audience. One mohawked fellow complains about how that "guy" (a Buddist monk who spoke about spending more than 30 years in a Chinese prison having an electric cattle prod shoved down his throat) "went on for days," while another, a cooler in one hand and the other raised high above his head in a fist, bellows "Free Tibet" as if the words mean little more than "lollapalooza."