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U.S. Film on Tibet 'Nowhere to Call Home' Strikes a Chord with China

By | Jan 17, 2015 02:00 PM EST
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A documentary about a Tibetan woman - a single mother trying to make it in the big city - may be the last thing the Chinese audience would want to see from an American filmmaker. The fate of Tibet under Beijing rule has long driven a political wedge between China and the U.S.

"Nowhere to Call Home" managed to tread away from the murky politics over Tibet and instead presented the relatable, all-too-real struggles of a woman to survive in her poor Tibetan village and to cope with the stigma of being a Tibetan migrant in Beijing.

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It took American journalist Jocelyn Ford years to put on film the life of Zanta - a widow who had to stand her ground against fierce men in her village who would 'belt' any woman daring to speak her mind.

Ford never imagined her documentary would be seen anywhere in China, much more capture a wide audience, she said after a recent screening in Shanghai.

A former China reporter for a public radio program, Ford met Zanta while she was peddling trinkets on the streets of the capital a decade ago. They traded contact information. Two years later, the American received a call from Zanta. She asked Ford if she can take her son in, as she barely makes enough for the two of them.

Instead, the journalist offered to pay for the boy's school fees and she began to record Zanta's life on video.


Ford is open about her support for and friendship with Zanta and she leaves it to viewers to make up their minds whether what she did was proper or not.

In the film, Zanta's father-in-law seeks custody of her son, Yang Qing, who will no longer go to school if the old man had his way. He took away the state-issued identification cards of Zanta and her son as a way to keep them in check.

Zanta leaves her village for Beijing with her son to build a better life for them, but the odds are stacked against her from the start. No landlord would take her in because most Tibetans are seen as too uncivilized and unruly.

A humanities teacher at a top Beijing high school showed the movie to her students, who found it moving. She said that students had no idea how hard a Tibetan's life could be in the capital, a wake-up call to be nicer and friendlier to migrants.

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