Butter Lamps, a short film directed by Chinese filmmaker Hu Wei is among the films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. This 15 minute experimental short is a work of fiction that is tinted with commentary on socio-political issues on the Tibetan plateau resulting from factors that are beyond the control of the Tibetans. The film features real Tibetan nomads as they interact with a photographer who travels the land offering to shoot portraits using various backdrops.
The film is said to be inspired by photographer Michael Nash’s works from Warsaw in 1946, where he went to the war torn region and photographed locals using scenic peaceful backdrops concealing the ruins from the war. Hu Wei’s film was shot between 2010 and 2012. The director, in an interview says,
“I hope to call attention to Tibet and Tibetan culture and traditions that are vanishing due to various reasons. And at the same time, examine the changes of our own culture under the influence of today’s globalization and modernization.”
In 2010, during the director’s first attempt to shoot the film in Tibet, Tibetans refused to work with him when they saw that he wanted to use the Tiananmen Square as a backdrop. The locals thought Hu Wei was making a Chinese propaganda film and did not want to partake. After a scuffle between the locals and the filmmakers, the production didn’t resume until 2012.
In the clip below from the film, Tibetan nomads pose in front of a camera, behind them is the backdrop of Tiananmen Square with it’s famous portrait of Mao. Soon an old Tibetan woman sits on a chair at the center concealing Mao’s portrait and instead holds a portrait of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders. In 1995, when the boy was just 6 years, The Dalai Lama recognized him as the 11th Panchen Lama but that same year, he and his whole family disappeared from the public eye. Believed to be in Chinese custody, Human rights organizations have often reffered to him as the world’s youngest political prisoner.
Read more about the Panchen lama here: www.freepanchenlama.org
Born in Beijing, China, Hu Wei graduated from La Femis, the National School of Fine Arts in Paris and Le Fresnoy, and now lives and works between Beijing and Paris.