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DREAMING LHASA

By Cameron Bailey
Programmer and Film Critic, Toronto International Film Festival

For many in the West, Tibet is the last romantic place left on earth. But beyond the stately mountain ranges, saffron robes and timeless traditions lies a struggle unfolding very much in the here and now. Dreaming Lhasa is the first film to capture both the majesty of Tibetan Buddhist culture and the complexity of its ties to the outside world. Dub reggae, family honour and the CIA all have their place here.

Many members of Tibet's exile community live across the Indian border in Dharamsala, in the impossibly gorgeous foothills of the Himalayas. It's here that a young American filmmaker lands, seeking the stories of former political prisoners. By blood, Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso) is fully Tibetan; by habit, she's a New Yorker. She meets Dhondup (Jampa Kalsang), an ex-monk who escaped Tibet after being imprisoned for his role fighting the government. What the monk wants most is Karma's help in delivering a treasured gahu, a charm box, to a missing man named Loga (Phuntsok Namgyal Dhumkhang). The more Karma hears, the more she feels lost herself - and the further her search takes her, the more new risks emerge.

Dreaming Lhasa draws Karma into a world where spiritual sophistication clashes with the harsh truths of geopolitics. At the same time, filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam push for a deeper emotional resonance, steeping Karma's story in the sadness of half-belonging.

Early on in her search, she meets Jigme (Tenzin Jigme), a brash young Tibetan who has made a sport of attaching himself to the endless stream of Westerners trekking to Dharamsala. But in Karma, he feels a connection that soon blossoms into love. To watch these two navigate their differences, to see it all unfold in such lush settings, and to hear the haunting counterpoint of the Cowboy Junkies singing "Blue Moon" is to understand, just a little, how it might feel to be a young Tibetan now.

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