"Distorted Propaganda is an extraordinary achievement, standing out in all ways from other films about Tibet. It eschews both the usual talking heads and the condescension and pity that tinge so much of what is produced in the West about contemporary Tibet. Indeed, the film opens with a brief but comic debunking of our romantic notions of Tibetans as always serene and peaceful. From there it moves quickly on to the main subject: a series of juxtapositions of the Chinese state's official representations of Tibet with the realities of everyday life there, framed by the two historical events of the "peaceful liberation" of 1951 and the state's celebration of the 50th anniversary of that event. The contrasts are interwoven through a series of tropes of state achievement such as "from darkness to light" and "build a civilized city," and with explorations of spheres of life, such as education and song & dance, where the reach of the state has been deep. The film artfully reveals its message through sometimes jarring juxtapositions: Tibetan song and dance as performed on television vs. song and dance by two old women begging in Lhasa; the official broadcast of celebrations of political anniversaries vs. the behind-the-scenes meetings that precede such spectacles, in which participants are warned to wear their finest clothing, or else risk being punished for being "political problems"; a Tibetan rock song about the dissolute life of contemporary elite youth on the streets of Lhasa, with a slow motion sequence of a long caravan of army trucks carrying rifle-bearing Chinese soldiers, driving down the same streets.
There is a clearly a political subtext, but the film does not try to emotionally manipulate the viewer. Nor does it straightforwardly seek to convey information. Instead, the film seeks to create an experience for the viewer of what it is like to live in Tibet: it reveals the texture and rhythms that permeate mundane life. Politically sensitive topics such as the new railroad are addressed, but not in the usual way. The film features iconic Communist Party songs, textbooks about the Young Pioneers, and Tibetans singing in Chinese about the glories of New Tibet, not to make fun of them, but because they were and are an integral structuring part of Tibetan life. Indeed, in pre-screenings of the film, Tibetans originally from Tibet can barely help but sing along to these songs of their childhood, with all of the memories that they evoke. The few interviews in the film are not with Western "experts" but rather with Tibetans now living in the United States, commenting on the same state representations that the viewer has just watched, thus giving the film yet another layer of complexity and cultural sensitivity. Like the clever title (it's not quite what you think), this technique, along with the film-maker's other artistic choices, presume the intelligence of both the viewers and the subjects of the film. Both moving and humorous, Distorted Propaganda is the best kind of film - one that provokes thought long after its viewing. Those who have spent some time living in Tibet are in for a particular treat, as the film is evocative of the place and its experience like no other."
Review by Professor Emily T. Yeh
University of Colorado at Boulder
"Jeff Lodas's film Distorted Propaganda masterfully depicts the stern fist of Chinese Communism hovering over the "New Era" Lhasa, through translation of Communist propaganda. The mistruth that now clutters Tibet's billboards , songs, ceremonies and education system, is exposed.
Powerful visual irony was filmed first hand from the filmmaker's two year stay in Tibet's capital while studying Tibetan language. Time-lapse captures of Chinese sprawl, show directly, the changes in the city, and Communist meeting tactics, are shown as they reside over the Tibetan leaders of the monasteries.
This film offers a key link in understanding the tone of the "Peaceful Liberation" of Tibet as well as deep insight into the pitfalls of Chinese mass culture.
One brilliantly layered scene shows a Chinese chorus singing a "New Era" communist song to a gathering of Tibetans, the subtitles to the lyrics, the guttural Tibetan reaction, Buddhist commentary from afar, and the Beijing made for TV version of the same song. These layers intertwine with revelation in this concise depiction of modern Tibet.
The potencey of the lies that are being perpetuated in the propaganda is horrific. Those with a sense of history about Tibet filled the Wilma with woeful groans Friday afternoon.
Hats off to Jeff Lodas who traveled to Missoula for the Film Festival and answered questions after his movie's debut."
Review by FuMa, New West Unfiltered, 2/16/07
"‘Distorted Propaganda’ is too long and boring to matter.
Making its world premiere and competing for the Documentary Feature award at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is a film by Jeff Lodas called “Distorted Propaganda,” a documentary delving deep into the world of communist propaganda in Tibet.
According to the film’s Web site, Lodas spent several years in Tibet learning the language and customs of the people so he could accurately portray the situation.
Truthfully, you’d never know this from watching the movie.
“Distorted Propaganda” meanders between footage of Tibet and shots of propaganda. This would normally be a shocking look at a foreign place, but it seems like the information most people would already assume when they hear the phrase “communist regime.” It never delves any deeper than a pamphlet from a Free Tibet rally, which is depressing. This film should be very compelling and rich, but it is mostly repetitive and empty of meaning.
Occasionally Lodas, who wrote and directed the film, puts up anonymous quotes from Tibetans who support his agenda. This was something I found distracting from the film, not because I felt it made it into –– ironically –– propaganda, but because I was always thinking “who is this person?” It’s understandable that someone living in a heavily censored society would not be very willing to speak ill of said regime on camera, but again, this is where a lot of the repetitiveness started.
It’s common knowledge that Tibet is in an odd place with Chinese control –– even the Beastie Boys have been trumpeting this cause since the early ‘90s. And this film does little to expand upon any idea about Tibet.
And so it drags… and drags… and the film is only 67 minutes long. If you watch the first five minutes of “Distorted Propaganda,” you’ve seen the whole thing.
There are better films to see at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this weekend and films definitely more deserving of awards when the festival ends.
(Kaimin Arts Rating: 1/5)"
Review by Pat Duganz, Montana Kaimin www.montanakaimin.com/index.php/arts/arts_article/a_few_big_films_of_the_big_sky/
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