The autobiography of Palden Gyatso, who was arrested in 1959 after taking part in a non-violent demonstration for Tibetan independence. After a failed escape bid he was starved and tortured. Following his release in 1992, after 33 years of captivity, he fled to India and began to reveal the true extent of the Chinese oppression in Tibet.
Palden Gyatso, a Buddhist monk since childhood, was arrested
by the Chinese Communist Army in 1959. He spent the next 33 years in
prison for the "crimes" of peaceful demonstration and refusal to
denounce his apolitical teacher as an Indian spy. He was tortured,
starved and sentenced to hard labor. He watched his nation and culture
destroyed, his teachers, friends and family displaced, jailed or killed
under Chinese occupation.
Fire Under the Snow reaches back to Palden's birth in 1933
and follows him through the Orwellian nightmare that began with the
Chinese invasion. We cut back and forth between the past and Palden's
present as an activist, living in exile. Our P.O.V. becomes a "third
eye" hovering over Paldens current life, haunted by his memories of the
past. We explore the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical
violation during his years in prison that ended decades later with
Palden's escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the
The film also investigates the basis of Palden's resilience. He
claims that faith in Buddhism helped him survive the 33 years of his
imprisonment. Furthermore, he insists that he is not angry with the
Chinese. He believes these atrocities befell him due to "karma."
While imprisoned, the mere existence of the Dalai Lama was a
beacon of hope to Palden and fellow prisoners-of-conscience. They
dreamed of being released from their torment and delivered into his open
arms. Today, the Dalai Lama and his supporters advance the idea of a
"mutually beneficial" autonomy within China, an idea generated from
Buddhist philosophy. Palden Gyatso and a sizable constituency are
holding-out for total independence. Thus, a painful schism exists.
Through discussions lead by Palden, competing political agendas are
revealed within the Tibetan exile community.
At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, we filmed the entirety of
Palden's participation in a hunger strike. Using this highly publicized
and symbolic event, an attempt is made to draw public attention to
Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympics. International Olympic Committee
Vice President Mario Pescante visits the site of the hunger strike to
negotiate a cessation of the action, and reveals the impotence of his
position. We capture Palden's dedication to the cause, his mentoring of
the younger Tibetan hunger strikers, and his emotional recollections of
lost comrades. The strike throws into harsh relief the reality that
human rights concerns are trampled under by naked economic ambitions.
Despite all, Palden Gyatso remains unbroken, keeping the flame of his spirit ablaze.
Fire Under the Snow reveals the contours of an inspirational story: the survival of a mind and a soul under unthinkable duress.