A well-intentioned but hopelessly unfocused treatment of a kidnapping that's become a flash point in the ongoing struggle between Tibet and the Chinese government. In 1989, Tibet's 10th Panchen Lama, second only to the Dalai Lama in rank, died suddenly and, some argue, under suspicious circumstances. The highest-ranking Buddhists of Tibet, who use a complex...read more
A well-intentioned but hopelessly unfocused treatment of a kidnapping that's become a flash point in the ongoing struggle between Tibet and the Chinese government. In 1989, Tibet's 10th Panchen Lama, second only to the Dalai Lama in rank, died suddenly and, some argue, under suspicious circumstances. The highest-ranking Buddhists of Tibet, who use a complex mystical system to identifying the newest incarnation of a deceased lama, set about locating the new Panchen Lama. In 1995, they found him in six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, from the small central Tibetan village of Lhar. But no sooner had the Dalai Lama (Tibet's secular and spiritual leader of Tibet, and the ultimate arbiter in the identification process), announced the discovery from his home-in-exile in India than the Chinese government made an announcement of its own. It claimed that the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as an enemy of the state, had no authority to identify the new Panchen Lama, and that China would find a Panchen Lama of its own. In the meantime, Gedhun and his family were placed under house arrest, taken from Tibet and secreted away somewhere in China. In November 1995, China named nine-year-old Gyaincain Norbu the 11th Panchen Lama; Gedhun and his family are still missing. The irony of an atheistic, communist regime like China's asserting its authority in the spiritual matter of choosing a religious leader for Tibet is not lost on filmmaker Robin Garthwait, who periodically interrupts actor Patrick Stewart's straightforward and informative factual narration with her own personal musings, voiced by Carla-Maria Sorey. But, as China expert Orville Schell points out, the controversy is really all about who has ultimate authority over Tibet, so the fate of a little boy and his family have become emblematic of the ongoing struggle for control over the hearts and minds of a country. But Garthwait would also like to make this unique, age-old dispute "a story of the world," and assembles an impressive array of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and writer Elie Wiesel, to draw parallels between Tibet, Northern Ireland, East Timor and South Africa. The result is a choppy, confusing film. Questions Garthwait asks herself are never satisfactorily answered, while observations by some of the great peacemakers of our time are often edited into non sequiturs.
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