CANNES, France — Two filmmakers at Cannes took extreme precautions Sunday to make sure the people they interviewed for a rare documentary filmed in Tibet will not face a crackdown by Chinese authorities.
To make sure the footage does not fall into the wrong hands, moviegoers were searched at the door for cameras and recording devices.
“What Remains of Us,” playing at the Cannes Film Festival, offers a rare and moving look at ordinary people in Tibet talking frankly about the hardships of the Chinese occupation.
Over eight years, two Canadian filmmakers posed as tourists to make risky trips into Tibet, interviewing people in monasteries, tents, fields and homes. They have been cautious to ensure that their subjects cannot be identified and punished by Chinese authorities.
Despite the dangers, most Tibetans were happy to speak, even on camera, said director Hugo Latulippe.
“The world doesn’t listen much to their story,” Latulippe said. “So when foreigners come, Tibetans want to speak about their problems.”
The filmmakers put themselves at risk by smuggling in a video message from the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader exiled in India. People in Tibet can be arrested merely for having a photo of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is pressing peacefully for Tibetan autonomy.
The movie’s premise is simple: The filmmakers stored the Dalai Lama’s message in a tiny laptop computer and showed it to Tibetans. Then the filmmakers recorded people’s reactions.
The most moving scenes show Tibetans crouched around the tiny computer screen. An elderly woman with a deeply lined face weeps as she clutches a small child. Stylish teenage girls in a city apartment break into tears. In a cold and wind-swept field, a family kneels on the grass around the screen, hands pressed together in prayer.
In the message, the Dalai Lama says that while China still is deeply repressive, it is in the midst of change. He also asks people to study and work hard to prepare for a better future.
To protect the identity of the listeners, Latulippe and fellow director Francois Prevost shot many of the scenes in hard-to-reach areas. They also interspersed footage from different regions to make it tougher to guess where scenes had been shot. They have made as few copies of the film as possible.
The filmmakers are looking for international distributors. But any deals will be contingent on guarantees of thorough searches at theater doors.