The Cloud Behind the Sun: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom

A Tibetan activist during the 2008 march from India to Tibet to protest China's domination of Tibet in "The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom."

“The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom” is a compelling, well made, beautifully photographed and historically important documentary that updates the long standing issue of the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s ongoing conflict with Chinese rule.  The film takes place during 2008 which turned out to be a significant year in the nearly fifty-year-old conflict.  In March of 2008 Tibetans living in India organized a march to Tibet to protest China’s domination of their country.  China gained control of Tibet in 1959.  The march was to take six months and attracted a large amount of attention.  At the same time anti-China protests broke out in Tibet while China put pressure on India to stop the marchers.

Filmmakers Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin show all sides of the protest. The marchers, who obviously want independence for Tibet, feel that the Dalai Lama should be leading them to give their cause greater legitimacy.  The Dalai Lama explains his “Middle Way Approach,” saying that he is giving up the idea of independence asking instead for cultural and social autonomy for Tibet.  His view causes disagreement among his followers.  The “Middle Way Approach” seems vague, ineffective and not unifying.  Meanwhile Tibet is being flooded with Chinese immigrants who dilute the Tibetan culture while China rejects the “Middle Way Approach.” “The Sun Behind the Clouds” is a fascinating look at an aging leader and his younger followers all trying to find a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.

“The Sun Behind the Clouds” was recently the subject of controversy when the state-run China Film Group protested screenings of the film at the Palm Springs International Film Festival by pulling the Chinese feature “City of Life and Death” from the festival.  Originally Film Forum was to have shown “City of Life and Death” but has replaced it with “The Sun Behind the Clouds,” which is scheduled to play at Film Forum through April 13.

The Sun Behind the Clouds, directors Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, 2009,

White Crane Films, 79 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 5, 2010, in Documentary, Film Forum. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This may be a “beautifully photographed and historically important documentary” but the claims are wrong.

    In fact, this documentary is misleading and full of lies.

    Facts and historical evidence that I’m sure were left out of the documentary show that Chinese emperors ruled Tibet for about six centuries until soon after the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911.

    Then Tibet broke from China at the urging of the British Empire (for political reasons) and declared its independence as a feudal state where one percent of the people ruled over the other 99% that were slaves and serfs as if Tibet was a country lifted out of the Dark Ages of Europe. When Mao’s Red Army invaded in 1950 – not 1959, Tibet was still a theocratic fuedal state.

    Tibet has never been a democracy. The government in exile claims to be a democratic government but in reality it is a one party theocracy.

    If you do not trust the evidence that the People’s Republic of China claims to have from Imperial records, I suggest you find a copy of the October 1912 National Geographic Magazine or buy the two volumes of Robert Hart’s letters, The I.G. in Peking 1868 – 1907, where Sir. Robert Hart ( he was knighted by Queen Victoria, awarded honors from a dozen other European countries and honored by the Vatican for his honesty and hard work to promote peace in East Asia) mentioned Tibet in more than fifty of his letters making it clear that Tibet was a territory ruled by the Emperor of Imperial China.

    Harvard University Press published the two volumes. The ISBN is 0-674-44320-9

    The original letters are kept at the Queen’s College of Belfast.

    If you do some more digging, you will discover that the Nationalist (KMT) government in Taiwan also claims that Tibet is part of China and if General Chiang Kai-shek had won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the KMT army would have been the one to invade and reoccupy Tibet. The KMT may have also invaded that part of Mongolia that is an independent country since they claim that territory too.

    How is Tibet different from the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern States? Tibet declared its freedom from China (that doesn’t mean freedom for Tibetan people) as the US did in the 18th century and the UK fought a war with the colonies.

    All China did was take back a territory they felt they had a right to rule over. Facts are more powerful than opinions, lies and misleading claims.

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