A polemic posing as a documentary, but an effective one, “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion” offers up a distinctly one-sided history of the Chinese seizure and occupation of that beautiful Himalayan land in 1949 and of the international movement to make the world aware of its people’s suffering and urge action to liberate them. The emphasis is on the religious tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (though the particulars of the faith system are only very briefly sketched), and on the testimony of those brutalized by the Chinese–mostly Tibetan monks, but also one British broadcaster who happened to be in the employ of the government when the invasion occurred. And, of course, the central figure of resistance is the Dalai Lama, whose escape from the country and crusade to free it from a Chinese program to destroy its culture by encouraging vast numbers of immigrants to settle in it, turning the indigenous population into an impoverished body of second-class citizens, are extensively treated.
There are occasional rejoinders from Chinese spokesmen, but all of them are made to look ridiculous by the context, and the argument that the intent of the Beijing government is to eradicate the special character of Tibet, particularly its religious character, through a policy of population shifts is convincingly made. Technically “Cry of the Snow Lion” is completely conventional (Martin Sheen’s narration is, if anything, a bit too subdued), but it succeeds in revealing a history that most viewers will know only vaguely, and easily generates a sense of outrage while doing so. It should be noted that other Hollywood types apart from Sheen participate in voiceover work here–Tim Robbins, Susam Sarandon and Ed Harris can be heard from time to time. But curiously Richard Gere, whom one might have expected to be at center stage, is nowhere to be found. That may be for the best.