Earlier this year, many were amazed when "Himalaya", a 1999 feature, arrived on DVD. That film was a dramatization of a very real event, following a group of Tibetan men on their enormous yearly trek to sell the salt they had just gathered. The trip is a tradition in the culture and also, a way that the tribe can make enough money to sustain themselves.
Now arriving on DVD is "Saltmen Of Tibet", an interesting and more low-key companion to "Himalaya". "Saltmen", a 1997 documentary, follows a group of tribesmen as they march across the rugged, beautiful countryside to reach the Himalyan salt lakes. The journey is no small feat: the men finally return to the tribe several weeks after they begin.
While the two films cover the same event, they are decidedly different in tone and feel. "Saltmen" director Ulrike Koch moves the film along very subtly and at a very relaxed pace, while "Himalaya" emphasized the drama and occasionally, the potential danger of the journey. "Saltmen"'s aim is clearly to put the viewer into the middle of this trek and it does so quite wonderfully - while it may move too slowly and not have enough development for some audiences, others who can admire this simpler, spiritual way of life will likely find this documentary rewarding and often fascinating.
VIDEO: "Saltmen of Tibet" is presented by Zeitgeist Video with a new 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The film will likely be lacking in comparisons to the stunning vistas that were presented in 1999's "Himalaya", but this documentary was done very simply and with a smaller crew, so the intimate, slightly rough feel of the documentary still works well enough. As for the DVD presentation itself, "Saltmen of Tibet"'s transfer seems to present the film elements about as good as they can look. Sharpness and detail vary throughout the program, as the film, which looks to have been shot with available light, can appear noticably soft. Even in some of the brighter, outdoor sequences, the film may appear crisper, but still doesn't offer strong detail.
On a positive note, the presentation did not suffer from any additional problems. Edge enhancement was not spotted, nor was any pixelation. For a low-budget documentary that's now a few years old, I was also surprised to see that the print was in very nice condition, with no noticable wear. The film's earthy color palette was also nicely shown, appearing warm and natural, with only some slight smearing. Keeping the budget, shooting schedule and filming conditions in mind, this was a very nice transfer.
SOUND: The film is presented in a stereo soundtrack that is in Tibetan with optional English subtitles (which are presented in white). Although this is a documentary, it doesn't offer what one usually finds in such features: there is no narration and, although the tribesfolk do discuss their plans for the journey and other topics, there are stretches of the film where there is no talking at all, only the sounds of the weather.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated main & sub-menus.
EXTRAS: Photo gallery.
Final Thoughts: While a little slow at times, this remarkable documentary does do a an absolutely superb job allowing the viewer along for this interesting journey. Those with an interest in Tibetan culture should absolutely seek out the DVD - others who think they might be interested should rent it.