San Francisco Bay Guardian : Get High
FILM San Francisco has a lot of film festivals (understatement of the millennium), but none until now can claim to show “films from the roof of the world.” The first annual Himalayan Film Festival kicks off this week with screenings in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. Opening night features the West Coast premiere of Leon Stuparich’sRoad to Peace, a doc that follows the Dalai Lama on his 2008 tour of the UK.
The timing of the visit coincides with a period of unrest in Lhasa, so the trip takes on an unexpectedly political tone, with reporters pressing His Holiness to speak about “the Tibetan problem.” Which he does (advocating for “meaningful autonomy” instead of complete independence from China, and emphasizing the need for “a realistic approach” to the conflict), though he nudges his message toward broader themes: universal responsibility, religious harmony, cultural preservation, the environment, and so forth.
In his wake, he leaves a trail of teary-eyed, thoroughly chuffed Brits, includingAbsolutely Fabulous‘ Joanna Lumley, and proves once again to be one of the world’s most laid-back leaders, with an easy chuckle that puts awed audiences at ease. No wonder he’s such a frequent, favorite subject for documentarians like Stuparich; to that end, if you’ve seen a previous film on the Dalai Lama, this genial travelogue is likely to feel somewhat familiar.
More unusual subject matter is explored in Himalayan Gold Rush, which manages to overcome its stiff, National Geographic-ish narration with a gripping narrative and quite a bit of spectacular scenery. Director Eric Valli travels to rural Nepal to investigate the lucrative yartsa gunbu, or “Himalayan Viagra” trade. Derived from a fungus-and-caterpillar situation that only occurs 5,000 meters above sea level, it’s “worth more than gold” to herbal-remedy shops that cater to rich Chinese clients.