Two travelogues intertwined.
Through text, the researcher-writer Alexandra David-Néel’s journey across the Himalayas is narrated via her letters home.
In audiovisual spaces, the filmmakers' experiences in eastern Tibet are reflected through their auto-ethnographic lenses.
Project Type:Documentary, Experimental
Runtime:1 hour 12 minutes
Completion Date:January 10, 2024
Country of Origin:Canada
Country of Filming:China
Language:Chinese, English, French, Tibetan
No public screenings yet
Cui, Yi is a Chinese Canadian filmmaker who works between her home country and North America. Her approach to creating films employs a process-driven methodology, allowing her to explore the intersections among diverse cinematic forms. She has created a series of works centered around the theme of 'Migrating Cinema,' delving into the connections between traveling film projection, Indigenous cinema, auto-ethnography, and ancient screen arts like shadow theatre.
Her work has received accolades including the Grande Price at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, the Libraries’ Award at Cinéma du Réel, the Best Short Film Award from the American Anthropological Association’s Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival. Several of Yi’s films have been screened at exhibitions and festivals worldwide, including Rotterdam International Film Festival, Images Festival, Viennale International Film Festival, Short Film Week Regensburg, Message to Man, and Iran International Documentary Film Festival Cinéma Vérité, among others.
In recent years, Yi has been actively engaged within the communities of Eastern Tibet, facilitating herdsmen, monks, and young students in creating their own films. Based on her reflections on the experiences of living and working within the local Tibetan communities, Yi created the experimental documentary "To Alexandra," which represents a collaborative effort between herself and native filmmakers.
“Who was it written to? Who is it written to? Who will it be written to?”
“Can I write back? To whom would I be addressing? If the consciousness behind the letters exists somewhere, would it ‘receive’ my response?”
These questions kept recurring to me as I read the letters by Alexandra David-Néel, a woman often celebrated as one of the pioneering explorers of the Himalayas. Different from the popular portrayal of her, the Alexandra I discovered in her writings was an earnest scholar, who never ceased her quest for truths. Her Himalaya journeys were never the end goal, but the natural paths carved by her inquiries.
More than a hundred years stand between Alexandra’s letters and myself. I would feel too humbled to compare my own experience to her charismatic stories. However, while reflecting on my own experiences living and working in Eastern Tibet, Alexandra’s questions, conundrums, pains, joys, and moments of enlightenment … feel intimately close, as if we were on a shared journey. Yes, she was writing to her loved one. But don’t these words, having endured the passage of a century, also speak to me, and countless others, in this very moment of history?
Like Alexandra, I question myself, as an outsider in the land of snows.
Like Alexandra, I grapple with my own role in a colonial history behind and in front of me.
Like Alexandra, I suffer the same sufferings, standing between the east and the west, the solitude and the relationship, the spiritual and the secular life …
Like Alexandra, I find myself asking, where is the path forward, while history is being shattered by plagues, wars, the human ferocity, and greed.
Like Alexandra, my fragile ‘self’ has been soothed yet profoundly challenged by my encounters on the Tibetan plateau.
I went to Eastern Tibet to “teach” people the art of capturing the world with a camera. Yet they have offered me far more than I gave them, not only through our interactions, but also through their lenses. Through their lenses, I learned how they perceive the human and non-human worlds, how they talk to nature, how they dance through space, and how they face life and death. The audiovisual landscape created by the native filmmakers became an integral part of my own Himalaya journey.
We write through different media. We write to one another.
Would Alexandra find joy in hearing from us — a fellow traveler and the Tibetan people that she cherished?