" Tibet in Song" tells the struggle of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule by focusing on the traditional folk music which has been drowned out by Chinese pop and propaganda over the period of occupation. With music as a backdrop, the film weaves the history of Tibet into the narrative and uses the experience of Tibetans and Choephel's own story to press a powerful message.
Having lived in Vermont USA for several years, he started filming in 1995 on returning to his homeland but within a couple of months he was stopped by a Chinese checkpoint, had his camera confiscated and was convicted of spying and sentenced to 18 years in prison. After continuing his research behind bars, transcribing songs from his fellow prisoners and then memorising them after his notebooks were captured and destroyed, he was released in 2002. Although the official reason for his early release was health issues, it co-incided with a visit from US President Bush and Choephel feels international pressure was the real issue, helped by the tireless campaign led by his mother.
Having grown up as a refugee in northern India , he was surrounded by Tibetan folk songs but found them harder to hear when he returned to his homeland, finding Chinese propaganda music and Tibetan groups supported by the Chinese authorities changing their traditional lyrics.
The film won a special documentary prize at the Sundance Film festival last year and will play in New York for a week before touring the US throughout October to December.