A Perspective On The Demonstrations In Tibet, From 1997

With the recent demonstrations in Lhasa and increased tension between the Tibetans and the Chinese, my parents suggested I think about digging up a video documentary I put together in 1997 about violence and non-violence in the history of the Tibetan struggle.

My goal in the project was to demystify what I saw at the time as a common representation in the Western press of the Tibetan people as all inherently peaceful, emotionless people who are too spiritual and compassionate to have strong negative feelings about their struggle with the Chinese. In the summer between my junior and senior years at Columbia, I spent a month shooting video in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan-government-in-exile and the home to many exiled Tibetans. I interviewed Tibetans who had fled their homeland, officers in the Tibetan-Government-In-Exile, and was honored to have a 20 minute private audience with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

I sought to discover and represent the diversity of opinions to be found in the Tibetan community in exile, to hear how individual Tibetans explain their views in their own words, and to better understand how the dual role of His Holiness The Dalai Lama as both political and spiritual leader plays into the the decisions individual Tibetans make. This NY Times article from this week addresses some of those same issues in light of the recent demonstrations.

Thanks to the help of Curtis at Thrill Media, my video is now online:

Shangri-La Revisited: Tibetan Perspectives On Non-Violence from Dave Coustan on Vimeo.

Retrieving the tape from storage this week reminded of the great many people I am indebted to for helping me out along the way. The project was self-funded. My family pitched in by hosting a big yard sale. I used my savings and they again pitched in to make sure I had what I needed to get the project done. At the time, that meant a Canon XL-1 Hi-8 camera — state of the art prosumer then, laughably primitive now. Mike Weiss led me through my first experience with the entire post-production process, and served as editor, post-production supervisor, creative collaborator, and mentor, all on a volunteer basis. I met many extremely helpful folks along the way, including my translator Karma Wanchuck, Phuntsog and Riga Wangyal at the Tibet Foundation in London, Jonathan Lee who composed the score, Lobsang Sangay at Harvard, the Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, the Religion Department at Columbia, Champa and Kalsang Namgyal, my Tibetan teacher Lozang Jamspal, and Dr. Tamdin who helped me navigate from Delhi to Dharamsala.


  1. Dan, thanks for sharing this. I always enjoy knowing the technical background of what went on with the shoot. I’ve posted a few videos I shot in the 80’s on VHS with a 2 piece. Tape still looks pretty good after 20 years. Curious, I see many more using Vimeo rather than my personal fave BLIP.

  2. I am so glad you finally posted this! I remember you mentioning it at BlogHer and a mere… few months later, voila!

    I think you do a great job of showing the story behind the headlines and 11 years later it’s still seems relevant. Thanks so much for digging it out and making it digital for us to see.

  3. I’ve got a copy of this on VHS! Soon to be on ebay.
    Looks like they did a good job with the transfer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *