Thursday, October 29, 1998

Film fest
loses movie
on Tibet

'Windhorse' is dropped
as isle officials feared
reprisals from China

By Tim Ryan


A provocative, praised movie about Tibet's political problems with China has been pulled from this year's Hawaii International Film Festival following its removal from the top award competition by officials here who feared reprisals by the Chinese government.

Paul Wagner, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, withdrew his 97-minute "Windhorse," saying in a letter this week to HIFF executive director Christian Gaines that he was "not willing to participate . . . under conditions which directly contradict the terms of our original invitation and acceptance" of being one of five Golden Maile nominees.

Gaines acknowledged yesterday that "Windhorse" had been nominated for a Golden Maile and then removed from the award list, but said a misunderstanding has led to the film being pulled altogether from the festival, which runs Nov. 6-19.

Wagner refused to show his film if it was stricken as a contender for a Golden Maile, the event's top award.

Festival officials believed they had explained to Wagner that his film still would be shown here even though it was not eligible for a Golden Maile. Wagner was not immediately available from his South Carolina offices.

China months ago denounced "Windhorse." Rumors reached HIFF officials soon after its Golden Maile nomination that several Chinese films might be pulled by the government if "Windhorse" was shown here or nominated for a major award.

"We heard rumors (in September) that the People's Republic of China knew we were showing (politically) sensitive films about China and were deciding whether or not to take political action," Gaines said.

That could have meant preventing as many as six Chinese films, including four world premiers, from being shown at the festival, Gaines said.

Gaines said losing "Windhorse" was a misunderstanding on both sides.

"I didn't make it clear to (Wagner) that what we wanted to do was create an atmosphere of equality for all the films in the festival. And he didn't make clear to me that being in the competition was pivotal to the film's inclusion in the festival."

Filmed in Tibet and Nepal, "Windhorse" is a contemporary story of three young Tibetans who in their search for freedom and fulfillment come face-to-face with their Chinese oppressors. The film stars Tibetan-American singer Dadon as an aspiring pop star, and Jampa Kelsang as her disillusioned brother.

"Windhorse" vividly reproduces the savagery of the infamous Chinese occupation, including the manner in which the Chinese military treats the Buddhist nuns.

The film won two awards this summer at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, including Best U.S. Independent Film and Best Director.

After "Windhorse" was dropped from the Golden Maile competition, another film was selected. Wagner last week realized that his film was not included in the competition and his request to have it reinstated was declined, in part, Gaines said, because all the nominations were filled.

"I asked him to please understand (HIFF's) spirit of compromise in this situation," Gaines said. "I know it's important not to acquiesce to the China Film Bureau or the Chinese government, but these filmmakers from China whose films we're showing are innocent. They didn't create the policies of their government."

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