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Originally published Friday, September 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

The real Tibet, without Tibetans

Beauty, spectacle, tales of brutal oppression: These are the mainstays of movies about modern Tibet.

Documentaries tend to go over the same material, partly because Tibetans fear retribution for speaking frankly about China's dominance during the past half-century. Filmmakers usually protect the country's citizens by keeping them anonymous and not directly filming interviews.

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Vajra Sky Over Tibet," a documentary written, directed and photographed by John Bush. 87 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Metro.

Their silence is eloquent, but it's rarely enough to sustain a feature film. Typically, John Bush's "Vajra Sky Over Tibet" (the final part of a Tibetan trilogy) starts off by pledging that it won't be revealing any names, and for a while the gorgeous displays of Tibetan art and architecture are enough.

But eventually you can't help wishing for some human contact. While the lulling narration by Bush and two exiled Tibetans is informative, it doesn't quite fill the gap.

Partly an art-history lecture, partly an account of China's attempts to snuff out Buddhism, the movie is most interesting when it addresses China's fears about the Dalai Lama returning. The government has even installed its own 6-year-old "puppet Dalai Lama."

A better-known Dalai Lama — the one exiled from Tibet decades ago — gives Bush his official blessing: "I am grateful to him for his dedication to this project."

Martin Scorsese's lightly fictionalized "Kundun" (1997) escaped the limitations of documentaries about Tibet because the dramatic framework allowed Scorsese to use his imagination. But then he had to film his Tibetan scenes in Morocco, and Bush can claim access to the real thing.

— John Hartl, Special to The Seattle Times

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