Film­maker strives to make a dif­fer­ence

Sichuan na­tive Norbu Dradul’s ca­reer has ranged from music videos to doc­u­men­taries

China Daily (USA) - - TIBET - ByPALDEN NYIMA in Lhasa palden_ny­ima@chi­nadaily.

Many young Ti­betans long for a sta­ble job in the public sec­tor af­ter grad­u­a­tion, but Norbu Dradul is an ex­cep­tion. The 33-year-old founder and di­rec­tor of the Sichuan Black Tent Film Stu­dio has been making movies and music videos for al­most 10 years.

He hails from the vast Zangkar Grass­land of Chungchu county, Sichuan prov­ince, a lo­ca­tion that has in­spired him to fo­cus on global con­cerns such as cli­mate change and eco­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tion.

As a teenager, he liked lit­er­a­ture, film and pho­tog­ra­phy, and dreamed of trav­el­ing the world with his cam­era and a lap­top.

He got the chance to learn English from Western teach­ers by tak­ing a four-year course at Qing­hai Nor­mal University starting in 2002.

While most of his class­mates were busy try­ing to land a sta­ble govern­ment job upon their grad­u­a­tion in 2007, he headed to the re­mote grass­lands with his cam­era to make a film.

He learned how to make movies with Gonbo Kyab, one of his best friends, and to­gether they col­lab­o­rated to pro­duce a grass­land-themed film in the win­ter of 2007.

It told the story of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween two no­madic tribes, starred more than 10 no­mads hired as ac­tors and ac­tresses and took one month to make.

Dradul cher­ished the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing on that first film, but knew he could do bet­ter. So he spent a year as an ap­pren­tice to an Amer­i­can film­maker in Xin­ing, cap­i­tal of Qing­hai prov­ince.

This was fol­lowed by a twoyear stint in a Ti­betan night­club in Xin­ing.

“I ac­tu­ally had the chance to film and make music videos by work­ing in the club, and taught my­self a lot of the skills re­quired,” he said.

“I live for a dream which I have never given up on, and I cher­ish ev­ery step I have taken to make it hap­pen.”

As one-by-one his peers gave up on their dreams, Dradul em­braced his fail­ures and set­backs, un­til he met Pema Tse­tan and Son­thar­gyal — two well-known Ti­betan film di­rec­tors — in Xin­ing, and had the op­por­tu­nity to learn from them.

Work­ing with the two di­rec­tors not only built up his con­fi­dence, but also gave him a step up on his ca­reer path.

With the help of Pema Tse­tan, he was able to en­roll in the Bei­jing Film Academy, where he stud­ied for one year.

“I learned both the the­ory and the prac­tice, and gained a true un­der­stand­ing of film in the academy,” Dradul said.

It also pro­vided him with a chance to meet fel­low film en­thu­si­asts and ex­perts, and net­work with them, he said.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the academy, Dradul de­cided he did not want to find work in a com­pany like most other stu­dents.

“I didn’t want to al­ways work for some­one else, rush­ing around with equip­ment on my back,” he sad.

“As a Ti­betan, I have my own things to deal with — I wanted to set up a com­pany, and train my own film team.”

His com­pany, Chengdu Black Tent Film Stu­dio, was es­tab­lished last year. Among its out­put is doc­u­men­taries, two of which Dradul is work­ing on at the mo­ment.

One tells the story of an el­derly man who, de­spite liv­ing in a cave, has mas­tered Ti­betan medicine, ar­chi­tec­ture, thangka paint­ing and mil­i­tary tac­tics, as well as hav­ing a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of Ti­betan Bud­dhism.

“I want to find out why he lives in such a sim­ple way, and why he is so knowl­edge­able and iso­lated,” Dradul said.

The other doc­u­men­tary is about cli­mate change — the same topic ex­plored in his short film The Night Mare, which was short­listed at last year’s Mo­bile Short Film Fes­ti­val at the United Na­tions Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Paris.

“Many for­eign par­tic­i­pants were in­spired by this film as they had never seen grass­lands and Ti­betan no­mads be­fore,” Dradul said.

“The grass­land is the near­est place to the sun, and is the source of many of the world’s rivers — grass­land con­ser­va­tion is vi­tal for eco­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tion.

“Some Ti­betan schol­ars have a say­ing — that the wa­ter re­lies on the grass, and the grass re­lies on the an­i­mals.”

Dradul’s lat­est doc­u­men­tary will fo­cus on how tra­di­tional no­madic life in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion helps grass to grow and con­serves wa­ter.

As well as doc­u­men­tary films, his com­pany has pro­duced more than 300 music videos for Ti­betan singers.

Dradul said he wants to fo­cus on im­prov­ing the qual­ity of Ti­betan music videos, and he dreams of putting Ti­betan music on the world stage.

“Music videos make a great con­tri­bu­tion to Ti­betan so­ci­ety as most Ti­betans like to lis­ten to songs,” he said.

“The con­tent of Ti­betan songs is usually en­riched with all as­pects of our cul­ture such as folk­lore, his­tory, health, ed­u­ca­tion, and en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion.”

Pema Tse­tan, a well-known Ti­betan film di­rec­tor, said the Ti­bet’s film in­dus­try only re­ally began in the early 2000s.


Norbu Dradul (cen­ter) works at the field with mem­bers of his team.


Two Ti­betan ac­tors per­form for Dradul’s film in Sichuan’s Aba Ti­betan au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture.


While film­ing in early spring in Sichuan’s Chungchu county, Dradul at­tracts a few Ti­betan herder on­look­ers.


Norbu Dradul (cen­ter) works at the field with mem­bers of his team.

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