Rituals of Resistance

Q&A with filmmaker Tenzin Phuntsog in attendance

Texas Premiere

IMFF 2020 Screening:

April 5th 2020   | 

Screening: 1.15pm - 3pm

AFS Cinema, Austin

Member Tickets: $12

Non-Member Tickets: $15

Student: $8

USA, Tibet | Documentary | 2019  | 63 MIN. |Tibetan, English; English Subtitles

This film will be preceded by a short: COBALT BLUE

Three generations of Tibetan refugees living in disparate parts of the world share their stories of resistance.



The film explores the various approaches they take inspired by and in conflict with their Buddhist faith. Intercut between each portrait, the film’s director, a Tibetan American, reflects on the different paths of resistance, as he wanders the American landscape that resemble the Tibetan plateau.


The film begins with the story of an ex-monk turned guerilla fighter living in Kathmandu, Nepal, named Tendar.


He breaks his spiritual vows and turns to violence to seek revenge for the death of his father after the Chinese invade Tibet in 1950.


The second portrait features an immigrant mother living in San Diego named Dolma, who was separated from her family for some 30 years. She recalls her story to reunite with her family in an emotional journey across Tibet.


The final portrait features a young Tibetan activist, who escaped Tibet at the age of nine to India. Orphaned and destitute, Lhakpa turns to politics for identity and purpose. At the height of his activities in 2006, he attempts to self-immolate during a historic visit to Mumbai by a Chinese Premier. Although he fails in his attempt, Lhakpa bears for the viewer the heartbreaking psychology of a suicide protester.



Much has been represented about the nonviolent response of the Tibetan Buddhists and the exodus of their leader, the Dalai Lama, in 1959 after the Chinese took over their capital, Lhasa. Most films on the subject have been from the viewpoint of political figures and celebrities, while stories of what happened to ordinary Tibetans who became part of the exiled community are seldom heard. When these voices disappear, so does the connection to the past, which impedes our capacity to make sense of the present. “Rituals of Resistance” is a personal film that highlights the perspectives of ordinary Tibetans in exile and their stories of resistance across three generations.


Five years ago, I was in India when Jampa Yeshi set himself on fire in protest of the visit of then President of China, Hu Jintao, in New Delhi. When his body was transported to Dharamsala for the funeral, I saw his charred body wrapped in white silk and carried in a ritual procession. I was at a loss for words. During this same time period, I received the opportunity to restore a rare 1966 documentary, "Raid into Tibet," which features the only known film footage of Tibetans in armed combat against Chinese soldiers. I realized I had an opportunity to incorporate this narrative through making a new film called “Rituals of Resistance.”


“Rituals of Resistance” is a handmade film, shot, filmed and produced by myself and my directing partner, Joy Dietrich, with a haunting music score by Alex Zhang Hungtai, formerly known as Dirty Beaches. The recent rise of self-immolations is challenging to discuss and show on film, but we felt compelled to bring awareness to this growing social phenomenon.


Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China has increased its repressive tactics, and it has become apparent to Tibetans that their circumstances will not improve through peaceful negotiations. Since then, there have been 150 self-immolations and the numbers continue to rise.


In 2011 at the age of 76, the Dalai Lama stepped down as Tibet’s political leader, leaving the fate of the struggle to its people. In the future, when the Dalai Lama is no longer with us, what will happen to Tibetans and their struggle? Although it is uncertain if he will reincarnate, the Chinese government has already laid false claims to the title of his reincarnation, which has wide implications for Tibetans.


As China censors the information coming out of Tibet and disseminates false historical narratives, it is increasingly important that these silenced stories reach a larger audience.


“Rituals of Resistance” was born from a film restoration project of the 1966 documentary, “Raid into Tibet,” by British director, Adrian Cowell. The restoration was funded by the World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Tibet Film Archive and restored at Cineric Inc. in New York. 

Tenzin Phuntsog - Director, Cinematographer, Editor

Tenzin Phuntsog is filmmaker living and working in Montana. He is the founder of the Tibet Film Archive and currently, Assistant Professor of Film at Montana State University. He received his MFA in Visual Arts at Columbia University in 2006.

Joy Dietrich - Director, Producer, Writer, Editor

A former staff editor at The New York Times, Joy Dietrich is a self-taught filmmaker who was born in Korea, grew up in America's heartland, and matured under the European social democratic system. Her films explore themes of adoption, identity, and cultural displacement. “Rituals of Resistance,” a collaboration with filmmaker Tenzin Phuntsog, is her first documentary feature.