Tibetan Film Festival Shut Down by City Hall
According to the artistic director of The Place, the venue’s management “chose not to take any chances.”
Published: April 10, 2013 (Issue # 1754)
A still from the 2004 documentary film ‘What Remains of Us,’ which was scheduled to be screened at the festival.
A St. Petersburg arts venue has canceled a Tibet-themed film event under pressure from a City Hall official with reference to the Chinese diplomatic missions in Russia, organizers have said. Called “A Different Tibet,” the event was to offer a program of documentary, feature and animated films.
“Unfortunately we have had to cancel the promised screening of films scheduled on April 2,” local club The Place announced on its website.
“The Chinese Embassy has submitted a request for the cancelation or postponement of the ‘Tibetan Film Night’ to the government of St. Petersburg. Therefore, the club will be closed tonight, please be advised,” the club’s website announced.
Organizer Valeria Miller said the club received a call from Yegor Ivanov, an advisor to the chair of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg, just before the screening. Ivanov advised management to cancel the event due to a request from the Chinese Consulate in St. Petersburg and the Chinese Embassy in Russia, which is located in Moscow.
According to Miller, Ivanov warned that if the event were not canceled, the “Chinese will come to the club and create a scene there, so that the club’s reputation will be ruined.” Miller, who represents the Rangzen, a Russian association of Tibet supporters which promoted the event alongside the Save Tibet Foundation, added that her association was told that it was being “dealt with” by the Interior Ministry.
“Our first conversation was rather peaceable. [Ivanov] asked if the films contained any open incitement against the Chinese position,” Miller said. In her words, Ivanov mentioned a letter from the Chinese Consulate that reportedly said the films “would ignite a separatist mood among St. Petersburg residents.”
“When I asked him what that meant, he asked me if there was anything [in the films] about the independence of Tibet,” Miller said.
“I replied, quite honestly, no, because there is nothing specifically about the political independence of Tibet in any of these films. Then he asked if there was anything which distorted history, to which I said — absolutely honestly again — that no, the films don’t distort any historical facts and talk about what is happening in Tibet right now.”
According to Miller, when asked if he was acting on behalf of the Chinese consulate, Ivanov replied that he was acting on behalf of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg.
Reacting to the request to see the letters, Ivanov promised to fax them the following morning, but the next day called the club saying that he did not have the right to distribute diplomatic documents, according to Miller, who said she has not managed to speak to him again since then.
‘Escape from Tibet’ follows the journey of Tibetan children into exile in India.
“When I phoned him and asked about his call to the club, he immediately said, ‘No comment, goodbye,’ and hung up,” she said.
“I wanted to ask him why, in a case where a foreign power is interfering with an event held by Russians for Russians, he called the club with threats rather than reporting the foreign interference to the relevant agencies. But he didn’t give me a chance to do that, because he hung up at once.”
She said the club had chosen to cancel the event, even though she did not feel that there was any “real danger.”
According to the art director of The Place, who asked that her name not appear in print, the venue’s management “chose not to take any chances.”
“We simply don’t like conflict and try to avoid such situations; especially when we were not part of the conflict. To my understanding, it was between Rangzen and City Hall,” she said.
“Perhaps we’ll hold a similar event in the future, but in this case we’ll apply for a permit beforehand.”
Neither the Chinese Consulate’s receptionist nor the consulate’s culture department answered the telephone when called Monday for comment. On Tuesday, Ivanov hung up on The. St. Petersburg Times as soon as he was asked to comment on the film festival.
The program for the film event as announced on the club’s website included the 2012 German-Swiss action film “Escape from Tibet” (Wie zwischen Himmel und Erde), directed by Maria Blumencron, which tells the true story of a medical student who accompanies a group of exiled Tibetan children over a Himalayan pass into India.
The documentary chosen for the screening was “What Remains of Us” (Ce qu’il reste de nous), the 2004 effort by Canadian filmmakers Hugo Latulippe and Francois Prevost, who followed a young Tibetan from Quebec, Canada, who was attempting to smuggle a video message to the Tibetan people from the Dalai Lama into Tibet.
The event was also due to feature animated films by an anonymous Chinese artist who works under the name of Saida El Alloumi and lives in the U.K. El Alloumi aims to “use creative media to challenge the myths about Tibet promoted by the Chinese authorities, “as well as elicit apologies from the Chinese to the Tibetan people, whose country was occupied by China in 1949.