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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 11/2/00



Free Tibet
1998 (2000) - Palm Pictures

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Free Tibet Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Specs and Features

88 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, director Spike Jonze and Evan Bernard), bonus Beastie Boys live video for Root Down from the Tibetan Freedom Concert NYC, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters - see song listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none


"100,000 people. 20 bands. 1 goal."

In 1950, communist Chinese forces invaded neighboring Tibet. The country, a theocracy with no army and believing in non-violence, was overrun. In the 50 years since then, thousands of Tibetans have been murdered or imprisoned by the Chinese. Their religious practices have been forcibly curtailed and most of their monasteries have been systematically destroyed. Tibetan prisoners are subjected to torture, rape and other atrocities.

In 1996, in an effort to raise awareness, the Beastie Boys joined forces with several other major bands and artists and various organizations fighting for a free Tibet. Their work led to the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Two years later, a documentary of the event was released. Free Tibet is that documentary.

As a documentary, Free Tibet has some truly compelling moments... and some truly dull ones. If you like all of the bands here, you should like these musical segments, even if they're not particularly special. But the mix of music and message makes for strange viewing. For example, we see Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 33 years. He's a compelling figure with a compelling story to tell. But when he's pared with a disjointed Foo Fighters musical number, it's hard to stay compelled. The tragedy of Gyatso, and the other Tibetans who appear in this documentary, is made that much more poignant by interviews with various concertgoers. Many of them laugh at the cause that prompted the concert they are attending. In another segment, a staff member says that if only some of the concertgoers are reached, then something was accomplished. She's right, but that hardly makes it any easier to stomach. In fact, if anything, this documentary highlights a very sad fact about musical activism - most concertgoers (and even some of the bands) have absolutely no clue about the causes being promoted.

The upside of this mix of music and message is that many people, who would never normally care about this issue, will pick this DVD up just for the musical acts. The downside is that such a mixing serves mostly to water down the message and its impact. That said, the parts of the documentary that actually address the situation in Tibet, and the sincere efforts of students and others to help free the tiny nation, are truly compelling. Free Tibet even gets brownie points for taking an honest look at how most people remain ignorant of the issue. I do wish, however, that the documentary focused more on the history and current events of Tibet and less on the musical performances.

The video on this DVD is as solid as can be expected. Presented in full frame, the program looks very good, with solid colors and nice contrast. The cutting between film and video source material is also handled well. This isn't the greatest DVD video in the world, but it blows away most concert footage I've seen. The audio on this disc isn't anything special either, but it does the job. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix fails to really make use of the surround channels, but the music still sounds decent.

In terms of extras, there's no real behind-the-scenes stuff. We do get a bonus video of the Beastie Boys playing Root Down live at the NYC version of the Tibetan Freedom Concert. And a commentary track featuring director Spike Jonze, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys and Evan Bernard is also included. It's not too bad, and doles out little bits of extra info here and there. The one thing it does do well is to show how important the cause of Tibetan freedom is to these guys.

All in all, this is a decent DVD release of a decent documentary, but nothing here is going to blow you away. I'd have rather seen a film focusing exclusively on the situation in Tibet and the various efforts to win freedom for the Tibetan people. The concert portions of this documentary are nice, but there's nothing really exciting about any of these performances. Still, I think the disc is at least worth a rent, if only for the fact that this cause is one we'd all be better off paying more attention to.

Song Listing

One Foot in the Grave - Beck
Asshole - Beck
This Is a Call - Foo Fighters
Damn Right I've Got the Blues - Buddy Guy
Crawlin' Kingsnake - John Lee Hooker
Diggin' the Sound/Breakadawn - De La Soul
Fu-Gee-La - The Fugees
Sabotage - Beastie Boys
Bullet with Butterfly Wings - Smashing Pumpkins
Birthday Cake - Cibo Mato
No More Kings - Pavement
Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Go Biz Mark - Biz Markie
Bull in the Heather - Sonic Youth
Check the Rhyme - A Tribe Called Quest
Bulls on Parade - Rage Against the Machine
Hyper-Ballad - Bjork


Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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