The Search

Following is a final post from our previous guest blogger, Baseera Khan. — Ed.


On Saturday March 20, I practically walked my way up from Chelsea to 125th Street. It was one of those days where every cab disappeared and every subway wrapped their platforms with pink ribbon. The whole modern city had shut down for repairs. My pedestrian efforts led me to Maysles Cinema, a non-profit theater in Harlem dedicated to the exhibition of documentary film and video. That night, the cinema was hosting a Tibetan filmmaker named Pema Tseden who, on his first trip to the US from Tibet, presented one of his films called The Search.

The Search depicts a movie director and his crew navigating through the vast Himalayan Mountains in and around Lhasa, Tibet. The group travels by way of sports utility vehicle (SUV), searching for dramatic characters and elements for a film adaptation of the Tibetan opera, Prince Drime Kundun — though what exactly they are looking for that they cannot quite describe. What they do find seems rooted in specific places, and their search is complicated by the expansive passages from one town to the next. Lhasa, located at the bottom of a small basin surrounded by mountains, has an elevation of about 11,800 feet, and lies in the center of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 18,000 feet. The film tells a familiar story, pitting modernity against traditional culture and it questions how the expansive role of movies can capture the micro-narratives that each town embodies. Ambivalent himself, Tseden’s work suggests that the greatest weapon his native culture has against the forces of modernization is its domineering landscape.

The space and conversation is typically enveloped by the landscape in this film, as the director quotes, “I don’t shoot close-ups of my characters, I want the view to take part in directing the story.” Tseden does this by placing the characters far enough away from the viewer to suggest room for interpretation. Communication is difficult, the film claims. A boy is bribed with school supplies to run a message from one town to the next. Inevitably, the words will change in the space between one town and the next and in this space, Tseden seems to find the heart of his Tibet.