The Tibetan Filmmaker Fighting to Put Minority Stories on Screen

Director Pema Tseden discusses his award-winning new movie “Balloon” and the struggle to promote diversity in China’s film industry.

Pema Tseden is known for producing gritty movies about the lives of Tibetans in China. His latest project, “Balloon,” is no exception.

Set in a remote pastoral community in the ’90s, the film follows the story of Drolkar — a woman from a shepherding family whose life is thrown into crisis by an unwanted pregnancy.

Already a mother of three, Drolkar knows that having another child will lead to her family receiving a crippling fine for breaking China’s family-planning rules. Yet her Buddhist relatives are desperate for her to keep the baby, believing the child may be the reincarnation of the woman’s beloved, recently deceased father-in-law.

As Drolkar grapples with her impossible choice, a pair of red balloons emerges, symbolizing the reproductive freedom floating out of her reach.

For Tseden, finding the space to tell such nuanced Tibetan tales has been a careerlong struggle. After a childhood spent in the remote pasturelands of the northwestern Qinghai province, he became the first ethnic Tibetan to ever study at the renowned Beijing Film Academy in the early ’00s.

In recent years, the 51-year-old has helped foster a new generation of Tibetan-language filmmakers known as the “Tibetan New Wave,” and his work has attracted growing critical acclaim — his 2018 drama “Jinpa” winning Best Screenplay in the 75th Venice Film Festival’s Horizons section. “Balloon” has also been widely praised, appearing at 60 film festivals and winning 11 awards including Best Screenplay at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival.

Yet Tseden still struggles to convince Chinese cinemas to screen his work, as companies often perceive features by ethnic-minority directors to be a tough sell. Continue to read the full article here


– This article was written by Cai Xuejiao and Chen Qi’an. It originally appeared on Sixth Tone