About Distorted Propaganda

Short Synopsis:

Through the window of Chinese propaganda in Tibet, this film looks closely at education, entertainment, urban development, religion, political anniversary celebration, and the peaceful liberation of Tibet. The film artfully illuminates these topics by delving directly into the propaganda world, and though interviews with five Tibetans for whom that world was a part of daily life.

Long Synopsis:

Through the window of Chinese propaganda in Tibet, this film looks at topics such as education, entertainment, urban development, religion, political anniversary celebration, and the peaceful liberation of Tibet.

Every aspect of life in Tibet contains some element of propaganda. For Tibetans, daily life requires a sensitivity to the political situation and the Chinese Communist Party "line", on which the propaganda is based. Propaganda attempts to regulate how Tibetans view themselves, and how the rest of China views Tibet. It is an important and usually overlooked element of modern Tibet.

Because of Tibet's political situation, many facets of life have a political tone. Education, from primary school through university, always includes political education, which seeks to produce loyalty to the Communist Party, and ferret out those who would dissent. Through popular entertainment, Tibetans may find themselves, willingly or unwillingly, singing songs of praise to the Party and Chairman Mao. Urbanization and economic development are the great acheivements held high by the Party. Who really benefits from it? Who really pays for it? Being Buddhist is synonymous with being Tibetan, and is one of the clearest expressions of national identity. Yet, loyalty to the Communist Party must come before everything, and religion is no exception. 2001 marked 50 years since the arrival of the Peoples' Liberation Army on the Tibetan Plateau. A parade and celebration of this "peaceful liberation" was carefully orchestrated in Lhasa, amid high security.

Five interviews reveal what it is like to grow up, live and work with propaganda in daily life. Three anonymous Tibetans discuss their experiences with education, media, and popular music. Interviewed on camera are Chopata Mache, a composer, and Agya Rinpoche, former Abbot of Kumbum Monastery in Amdo and VP of the Chinese Buddhist Association.


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Director's Statement


This project was born out of a necessity - the need to speak out comes from living in a place and hearing a story that needs telling. Although I had read books and seen films about Tibet prior to living there, my education began when I arrived. Although I came to witness the situation firsthand, there was nothing I could do about it. The video camera became my outlet for 'doing something about it.' The project has evolved in the five years it has been in the works: from taking pictures of street banners, to seemingly endless hours of footage and propaganda material, to a small collection of rough shorts and interviews which slowly grew together to the finished product.

Most films focus on the short-term strategies for physical and economic control of Tibet, and the obvious negative side effects of those strategies. Foremost among the long-term strategies are the ubiquitous propaganda campaigns, which attempt to regulate how Tibetans view themselves and their country.

The audience I had in mind while working on the film was one that is relatively informed on and interested in Tibet's political situation. During screenings, I have noticed that those who report getting the most out of the film are a mix of people, not just those with a background on Tibet. Tibetans who have seen it have generally been very appreciative, and I am grateful for their support.

The topic of propaganda is becoming more and more relevant to the lives of Americans as well. Our media and education are full of various subtle and overt political, cultural, and economic propagandas. It is so often so close to home that it becomes obscured by our experiences of it. Because Chinese propaganda is relatively straightforward and foreign to us, it is easier to see clearly. Differences between the two are numerous, but frighteningly, so are the similarities. My hope is that viewers will take this opportunity to deepen their understanding of the situation in Tibet, and consider how that can inform their own experience as well.

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