5 films to take you on a cinematic journey to Tibet


From tales of love to stories of exile, to sweeping landscapes, the current free film program from 7 October – 23 November 2022 at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA offers a journey through ‘The cinema of Tibet’. A filmmaking region that outputs only a small number of films, the quality of films and documentaries produced are outstanding and offer a rich insight into daily life both inside Tibet and of Tibetans in exile. Here are five films that present a window into Tibetan filmmaking.

Amala – The Life and Struggles of the Dalai Lama’s Sister 2022

Join us for the Australian Premiere of this exciting new documentary. As Spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama is the figurehead of Tibetan culture, yet less is known of his sister – the indomitable Jetsun Pema known as Amala (mother). This engaging look at a generous and courageous woman is a masterclass in solidarity, a life of service and the deep need for expression of identity.

Production still from Amala – The Life and Struggle of the Dalai Lama’s Sister 2022 / Director: Geleck Palsang / Image courtesy: Geleck Palsang / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’

Balloon 2019

Set on the stunning Tibetan steppes, Balloon follows a loving family as they navigate the challenges of their conservative farming community, spiritual obligations and China’s one-child policy with dignity and kindness. Dargye (Jinpa) and Drolkar (Sonam Wangmo) are parents to two cheeky boys, whose innocent discovery of a condom causes a stir in their rural community, to the embarrassment of the family. Tibet’s foremost director Pema Tseden deftly explores constraining gender roles and the frisson between tradition and modernity, crafting a gentle film told with humanity and humour.

Production still from Balloon 2019 / Director: Pema Tseden / Image courtesy: Rediance Films / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’

Bringing Tibet Home 2013

Bringing Tibet Home is a dramatic, observational documentary that follows New York-based artist Tenzing Rigdol in an ambitious undertaking for his next art project. He proposes to transport 20 tonnes of soil from Tibet across three countries to a final installation in Dharamsala, India. His motivation? Not only to bring awareness to the constraints of Chinese rule in Tibet and their influence across the region but to give Tibetans in exile the much dreamed of chance to set foot on native Tibetan soil. Bringing Tibet Home is infused with Rigdol’s longing for his homeland, nail-biting moments during contentious border crossings and bold dreams that artmaking can bring people together in new ways. Bringing Tibet Home captures the Tibetan refugee experience with vivid intensity and the warmth of human connection.

Production still from Bringing Tibet Home 2013 / Director: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay / Image courtesy: Journeyman Pictures / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’

Bringing Tibet Home 2013 / Director: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’ 

Wangdrak’s Rain Boots 2018

Wangdrak dreams of gumboots to keep the squelching mud from his sodden feet and the cruel taunts of his schoolmates at bay. Unfortunately, his family’s financial situation can’t stretch that far and a new scythe for the impending harvest rather than new shoes are his father’s priority. A sweet and stunningly shot film by cinematographer and first-time director Lhapal Gyal, Wangdrak’s Rain Boots eloquently captures daily life in rural Tibet and the simple and raw longings of childhood.

Production still from Wangdrak’s Rain Boots 2018 / Director: Lhapal Gyal / Image courtesy: Lhapal Gyal / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’

Wangdrak’s Rain Boots 2018 / Director: Lhapal Gyal / Now screening in ‘The cinema of Tibet’ 

Royal Café 2016

Paris-based Fashion Designer and Filmmaker Tenzin Dasel is one of very few Tibetan women making films. In Royal Café she meditates on the filmmaking process and through candid conversations with a series of characters in cafes and bars examines the freedom and constraints of being a Tibetan living in Paris.

Also screening, Seeds is Dasel’s first short film shot on 8mm in India and combines dream sequences with a verité style of filmmaking. The film offers a fresh perspective on the restlessness of youth capturing both the inertia and big dreams of the refugee experience.

Production still from Royal Café 2016 / Director: Tenzin Dasel / Image courtesy: Tenzin Dasel

Be The Mountain: Music and Conversation with Tenzin Choeyal

On Saturday 5 November from 1.00pm join us for an afternoon of live music and conversation with Grammy nominated musician and film composer Tenzin Choegyal, one of the world’s finest musicians with Tibetan lineages. Tenzin combines his soaring vocals and traditional folk mastery with contemporary music imaginings, his collaborations with artists throughout Australia and worldwide include Phillip Glass and Laurie Anderson.

Following the music performance, Tenzin will discuss the art of composing and capturing the emotional resonance of a film. This special music event is ticketed.

Tenzin Choegyal

The cinema of Tibet

View the program

Dreaming Lhasa 2005
The Silent Holy Stones 2005
The Search 2009
Old Dog 2011
Bringing Tibet Home 2013
The Sacred Arrow 2014
River 2015
Tharlo 2015
Pawo 2016
Royal Cafe 2016

Wangdrak’s Rain Boots 2018
The Sweet Requiem 2018
Balloon 2019
Lhamo and Skalbe 2019
Amala – The Life and Struggle of the Dalai Lama’s Sister 2022

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

‘The Cinema of Tibet’ is a free film program screening from 7 October – 23 November at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA. View the ongoing Cinema Program.

QAGOMA is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.

Featured image: Production still from Lhamo and Skalbe 2019 / Director: Sonthar Gyal / Image courtesy: Rediance Films