Dreaming Lhasa

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First Run Features

NEW YORK -- More inspired in political than dramatic terms, this debut narrative feature from documentarians Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam wraps a fictional tale around the plight of Tibetan refugees. But while those interested in the topic will find much here to appreciate, "Dreaming Lhasa" ultimately is a static and awkward effort that never quite comes to life. Jeremy Thomas and Richard Gere are among the executive producers of the film, which is playing at New York's ImaginAsian Theater.

The filmmakers, who have made several documentaries dealing with Tibet in recent years, have crafted a clearly self-inspired story. It concerns a New York-based Tibetan filmmaker, Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso), who travels to Dharamsala, India, location of the headquarters of the exiled Dalai Lama, to make her latest documentary.

There, much to the chagrin of her jealous assistant (Tenzin Jigme), she becomes involved with one of her subjects, Dhondup (Jampa Kalsang), an ex-monk who has journeyed there to honor his dying mother's last request that he deliver a charm box to a long-missing resistance fighter.

Interwoven into the tale are interviews with actual Tibetan victims of Chinese repression, who deliver their harrowing accounts in deeply moving fashion.

Unfortunately, for all the film's laudable intentions, its storytelling is awkward and unconvincing, and the actors never fit comfortably into their characters. Would that the filmmakers had abandoned their melodramatic fictional narrative and simply concentrated on the powerful true stories on display.
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