When the Straight reached San Francisco activist Giovanni Vassallo by phone last week, he was in the middle of an impassioned crowd at a pro-Tibet rally in his city.
"It’s a very timely time to call," Vassallo, president of the Bay Area Friends of Tibet, told the Straight on April 25.
Vassallo and other protesters from various groups were hosting Lhamo Tso, the exiled wife of Tibetan filmmaker and political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen. The filmmaker was arrested in March 2008 in Tibet, which is ruled by China, and sentenced to six years in prison in 2009 following the release of his 24-minute documentary Leaving Fear Behind. The film features footage taken inside Tibet ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Wangchen has hepatitis B, Vassallo added, and his wife wants him released on health grounds. Through a translator, Tso told the Straight no one has been allowed to visit her husband since February. Now Tso and her family, along with Wangchen’s parents, are living in exile in Dharamsala, India.
"I didn’t know what he was working on until I saw the film that my husband had made," Tso told the Straight. "He wasn’t even a photographer, let alone a filmmaker. So when my family and I saw the film, we were shocked in disbelief, but in a positive way, because we saw what he was doing for the country. For me, watching the video, what I think of it is that my husband was very brave to make that video about Tibet so that the rest of the world can find out about what is going on inside Tibet."
The Straight sent several interview requests to Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, but the minister’s office repeatedly refused to arrange even a brief phone call.
Near the end of Leaving Fear Behind, Wangchen captured Tibetan nomads crying tears of joy after secretly viewing footage of a meeting between the Dalai Lama and former U.S. president George W. Bush.
"From 1959 until now, there has been a lot of trouble inside Tibet," Tso added. "The scene…describes how the Tibetans inside of Tibet feel: it is hope that His Holiness will once again return to Tibet."
On Monday evening (May 7), sandwiched between talks in Montreal and Victoria, Tso will speak at an event at Langara College. Canada Tibet Committee, Students for a Free Tibet Canada, and Amnesty International Canada are sponsoring the event, for which there is a $10 admission, or payment on a sliding scale.