Many of the most horrific and needless tragedies of the past 100 years are very well-known by now. Current events: Endless violence in the Middle East. Countless deaths caused by tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Further back: The Vietnam War. Pearl Harbor. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Holocaust. One of the lesser-known examples of needless death, oppression and destruction really began just over fifty years ago---and, unfortunately, it's still going on now. The victim is Tibet, a mountain-top country in Central Asia that rests just between India and China.
As 1949 drew to a close, the 30+ years of independence enjoyed by Tibet would soon be over. October: the People's Liberation Army of China would soon begin liberating a list of all Chinese territories, of which Tibet was included. November: Tibet's government is advised to enter into negotiations with the Chinese government, as any other option would provoke military action.
Less than one year later: military action. 40,000 Chinese troops wipe out Tibet's army of just 8,000, killing half and taking over the provincial capital of Chamdo in the process. Soon after, the young Dalai Lama---only 16 at the time---is requested to assume responsibility as Head of State during an emergency session of the Tibetan National Assembly. By the end of 1951, China's occupation of Tibet is complete. Well over 1,000,000 Tibetans have been killed since then, proving the Chinese occupation of Tibet to be one of the most horrific cases of genocide ever committed.
Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion (2003) is a document of this genocide, equal parts historical roadmap and political cry for help. Director Tom Piozet and his crew have spent roughly ten years---encompassing nine trips throughout Tibet and the neighboring countries of India and Nepal---as a way to spread the word about this modern-day holocaust. There's a formadible amount of footage both old and new, from old Chinese propaganda films to rarely-seen religious rituals. Although the painfully straightforward presentation really doesn't break any new grounds in the documentary genre, the strength of the film's visuals and testimonies (including many from Tibetan prisoners, such as the woman seen below) is enough to make it required viewing for those interested in political matters and the world at large. Even if you're not, this isn't a bad way to start.
As mentioned before, the only drawback to Cry of the Snow Lion is the basic presentation style. Authentic voices are often covered up by English dubbing, provided by politically-minded celebrities like Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. With no disrespect towards the celebrities involved and the efforts they're making towards the cause: bridging the cultural gap with famous faces may pull in more viewers, but it's an unnecessary layer to a film that really only needed subtitles. Still, the dubbing is a small price to pay: there's a wealth of great contributions here, including words from Robert Thurman, Ph.D., a former Tibetan monk (ordained in 1964) and a personal friend to the Dalai Lama himself. Even with a few drawbacks, it's obvious that Cry of the Snow Lion is an extremely personal project and a work done out of sincere compassion for its subject. Thankfully, it relies more on facts than sensationalism to get its point across.
Of course, there's more to a great DVD than just a good movie, and New Yorker Video's well-rounded efforts prove to be up to the challenge in almost every respect. Although the visual presentation has a few nagging roadblocks (even during the newer footage), the inclusion of several key bonus features---not to mention a sharp overall presentation---make Cry of the Snow Lion a noteworthy DVD that covers nearly all of the bases quite well. Although it was originally released in December of 2004 (and what a year for documentaries that was!), this is still one package worth checking out. With that said, let's look at this disc in more detail, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion features a decent video presentation with only a few nitpicks. Colors are a mixed bag for the newer footage, alternating between vivid and generally dull---it's not a major issue, but an issue nonetheless. There's a moderate amount of edge enhancement as well, which can be a bit of an eyesore if you're looking for it. The older footage can't be judged on the same scale, as it's worn and dirty but still quite watchable. Overall, it's a passable effort, but there's room for some improvement.
The audio presentation seems to be a straight 2.0 Stereo mix---it's a no-frills experience, but ardent fans of the documentary genre won't be disappointed. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, while the strong music cues are also represented quite well.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The attractive fullscreen menu designs (seen above) feature clean layouts and smooth navigation. The 104-minute film is divided into just 13 chapters, and no layer change was detected during playback. Like the film, all accompanying bonus features have been presented in a standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Packaging was nicely done, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes a nicely-designed chapter insert. Unfortunately, there we no optional subtitles available...and this is something that should always be included on a DVD.
There's a nice assortment of supplements here, starting with a series of Bonus Scenes that include "Journey to Lhasa" (14 minutes), "Summer in Kham" (Scenes from Central Tibet, 13 minutes), "Sakya Masked Dances" (11 minutes), "The Nagchu Festival" (16 minutes) and a New Year's celebration entitled "Another Year in Exile" (10 minutes). It's nice to see such detailed footage, though I'm sure there was much more taken during this 10-year production. There's also a few additional Interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (7 minutes) and contributor Robert Thurman, Ph.D. (8 minutes)---while the first is more of a general conference than a genuine one-on-one interview, it's terrific to hear from such an important man in any regard. Rounding out the special features is a Music Video for "Long Life Chant" by Jeff Beal and Nawang Khechog (7 minutes) and the film's original Trailer. Overall, a terrific mix that would have only been improved with an audio commentary.
There's no doubt that Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion is a solid effort, and New Yorker Video's DVD treatment provides the needed amount of support to make this release stand out. While there's a bit of room for improvement in the film's technical presentation---particularly in the video department---the respectable mix of bonus features suits the main feature well. This disc may be a bit on the pricey side to recommended a blind buy (unless you're a big fan of documentaries, of course), but here's the bottom line: it's worthwhile viewing about a truly important subject. Overall, a fine DVD that any follower of global events should appreciate on many levels. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.