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Through Tibetan Eyes: the Films of Pema Tseden

A day-long, four-film tribute to the Tibetan New Wave’s guiding light

Sunday, April 21

Pema Tseden (1969-2023) gave the Tibetan people a voice in movies. His weren’t the first films shot in Tibet. Han Chinese filmmakers like Tian Zhuangzhuang and Hollywood icons like Martin Scorsese have made Tibet-set films about spirituality and “ethnic minorities.” Images from China and the west depicted Tibet as exotic and beautiful, and Tibetans as noble Others. When Pema Tseden became the first Tibetan filmmaker to make feature films in the Tibetan language, he would take audiences – Tibetan, Chinese, and international – in a visionary new direction.

Critics love to call Pema Tseden’s films “parables.” Their prolonged journeys – often structured as road trips – cover moral and spiritual ground as well as Tibet’s vast geography. They also view the world from multiple planes: there are films within films, and curious dream logics. But “parable” undersells how defiantly modern his films are. They don’t romanticize Tibetan purity, nor do they directly criticize social and cultural change in the shadow of Beijing. Instead, they invite audiences to step in Tibetans’ shoes and journey with, often through the uncanny, the ironic, the bleak, or the indeterminable.

In his 20-year career in filmmaking, cut short by his untimely death last May, Pema Tseden explored a number of cinematic styles, proudly made Tibetan films that outsiders may not appreciate, and became a darling of international film festivals and, perhaps even more miraculously, the Chinese film industry as well. As he began to flirt with mainstream genres in recent years, orbiting dangerously close to the sun, he never bent to official narratives of Tibet and its politics, nor did he abandon the rigor of his uncompromising style. If Pema Tseden made Tibet cinematic, it wasn’t by producing beautiful objects for another’s gaze, but by commanding the medium with the boldness of an artist.

We present four of Pema Tseden’s most memorable films, from the international breakthrough The Search to his final film Snow Leopard, completed just weeks before he passed.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Search

Directed by Pema Tseden
A Tibetan filmmaking crew has found the perfect actress to play the wife in their adaptation of the Drime Kunden story, but she refuses the part unless her ex-boyfriend is cast in the lead. And so they hit the road to find him. Along the way, a businessman tells the story of his first love, while the crew auditions ordinary villagers at pit stops. With Abbas Kiarostami’s eye for enchantment and a local’s ear for the everyday, THE SEARCH marks the arrival of a Tibetan New Wave.

12:30 pm
UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley


Directed by Pema Tseden
All his life, Tharlo has been a solitary shepherd. When he’s required to get an ID card, he travels to the village, a Kafka-esque mundane modern world, culminating in an encounter with a flirty hairdresser who will leave Tharlo forever changed. A stark and utterly original vision of Tibet losing its identity, told without nostalgia or sentimentality, only the shattering calm of a world quietly fraying at the seams.

2:45 pm
UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley


Directed by Pema Tseden
On a lonely Kekexili road, a truck driver picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be no ordinary wanderer. Somehow, he has the same name as the truck driver (Jinpa), and he is revealed to be on a revenge mission to commit murder. Is this a dream? A karmic manifestation of moral destiny? After dropping the stranger off, the truck driver knows that he can’t simply walk away. Pema Tseden’s Tibetan allegory meets the evocative stylishness of Wong Kar-wai, who boards as the film’s producer.

5:20 pm
UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley

Snow Leopard

Directed by Pema Tseden
A snow leopard breaks into a sheep pen, killing nine rams and setting off a debate about what to do next: kill the intruder or set it free. A TV news crew arrives, as does a young monk who also happens to be an amateur photographer of snow leopards. As the debate boils, tensions between human and animal, tradition and modernity, law and spirit, emerge through an unforgettable blend of the real and surreal.

7:15 pm
UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley