USA: FILM DIRECTOR MARTIN SCORSESE PUTS TOGETHER AN ALL-TIBETAN CAST FOR HIS EPIC "KUNDUN"Record ID: 387350
- Title: USA: FILM DIRECTOR MARTIN SCORSESE PUTS TOGETHER AN ALL-TIBETAN CAST FOR HIS EPIC "KUNDUN"
- Date: 11th December 1997
- Summary: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (DECEMBER 11, 1997) (RTV - ACCESS ALL) (SOUNDBITE ENGLISH) MARTIN SCORSESE SAYING, "IT'S ONE OF THOSE THINGS, IT WASN'T THAT KIND OF FILM WHERE A HOLLYWOOD ACTOR COULD REALLY BE IN IT, QUITE HONESTLY. IN THIS DAY AND AGE, PEOPLE WON'T ACCEPT PEOPLE IN MAKEUP PLAYING DIFFERENT RACES OR DIFFERENT TYPE OF, AND IT'S SUCH A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TIBET AND THE AMERICANS, YOU JUST COULDN'T DO IT, SO, WE FOUND NON-ACTORS WHO ARE TIBETANS WHO COULD PORTRAY THEMSELVES, OR DO SOME ACTING IN FRONT OF A CAMERA AND NOT BE SELF-CONSCIOUS, AND THAT WAS A LONG TREK, BY ELLEN LEWIS WHO WENT THROUGH INDIA AND A NUMBER OF PARTS OF THE WORLD TO FIND THEM.. TOOK ABOUT 6 OR 7 WEEKS, AND I FOUND THAT, ULTIMATELY, WHEN WE GOT TO MOROCCO AND WORKED TOGETHER, THEY CENTRED THE MOVIE, THEY WERE THE EMOTIONAL CENTRE OF THE FILM, THEY WERE THE HEART OF THE PICTURE, BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T JUST BEHAVING OR ACTING, THEY WERE LIVING IT, IT MEANT THEIR WHOLE LIVES TO THEM." (SOUNDBITE ENGLISH) MELISSA MATHISON SAYING OF CHINESE PROTESTS OF THE FILM, "I THINK IT'S FABULOUS. I THINK THAT THEY ARE DISPLAYING, IN A BIG GUERRILLA-TYPE MANNER TO THE WORLD, THE WAY THEY HAVE BEEN TREATING THE TIBETANS FOR 50 YEARS. THEY THINK ALL THEY CAN DO IS HUFF AND PUFF AND BLOW THE HOUSE DOWN AND EVERYBODY'S GOING TO BE SCARED OF THEM, AND NOT HEAR WHAT HIS HOLINESS HAS TO SAY, NOT SEE HIM, THEY ARE SCARED TO DEATH OF THIS MAN."
- Reuters ID: LVACH4SVPPCB7TC3REMSHQ82CQ13
- Location: NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES/ FILM lOCATIONS
- Country: USA
- Duration: 00:01:10
- Story Text: - One of America's most respected filmmakers, Martin Scorsese, has turned his cameras to the Far East to examine the life of the Dalai Lama.
The histociral drama - "Kundun" - sports a cast of unknown Tibetans.
Scorsese, screenwriter Melissa Mathison and a number of the film's cast attended the film's world premiere in New York on Tursday (December 11).
"Kundun" is the true story of a young Tibetan boy named Tenzin Gyatso, who was two years old in 1937 when he was recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, also known as the Dalai Lama.
The film follows him from his childhood through to young adulthood when, in 1959 following an invasion by the Chinese Communist army, he fled into exile.
Since that time, the Dalai Lama has lived and continued to preach Tibetan Buddhism and non-violence from his exhile home in India.
"It's a story about a man who lives, really lives out his religious convictions," Scorsese said.
Hollywood has caught on to the Tibetan cause recently, with celebrities such as Richard Gere and Mathison's husband actor Harrison Ford publicly supporting the spiritual leader of the Himalayan kingdom.
This is the second film this year that focuses on the Dalai Lama.
The first was French filmmaker Jean Jacques Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet" starring Brad Pitt. Both that film and "Kundun" have angered Chinese government officials.
Several months ago, the Chinese government threatened to boycott all products from the Walt Disney Company, the studio releasing "Kundun," if it went ahead with production. Disney made no changes in its plans, and instead asked former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to mediate.
Mathison said she believed the Chinese were against such film-making because they were intimidated by the power of the Dalai Lama. "They think all they can do is huff and puff and blow the house down and everybody's going to be scared of them, and not hear what his hiliness has to say, not see him. You see, they are scared to death of this man," he said.
Mathison began work on "Kundun" about seven years ago, researching the film for a year before submitted a short treatment of a screenplay to the Dalai Lama. She was given the go-ahead at their first meeting, in April 1991.
The Dalai Lama then invited Mathison and Harrison Ford to join him on a retreat in Northern California and there she began a series of interviews.
As soon as she finished a first draft of the screenplay, Mathison and Ford traveled to Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan parliment in exhile, and spent six days working with the Dalai Lama. Ford read the first draft aloud, and the Dalai Lama made corrections as more memories came to his mind.
Once the screenplay was finished and Scorsese came on board, the next challenge was casting the film.
Scorsese's longtime casting director Ellen Lewis combed Tibetan communitites in India and the U.S. with a video camera to find Tibetans who had the right physical characteristics and whose English was good enough to tell the story.
After a seven week process, Lewis wound up with a cast almost entirely made up of non-actors.
Lewis said it was unusual to use non-actors. "It was a really big challenge, but I knew that in Martin Scorsese's hands, everything would be fine," she said.
To play the Dalai Lama, she settled on four young Tibetans.
Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong plays the Dalai Lama as a young adult, Gyurme Tethong plays him at age 12, Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin plays him at age 5, and Tenzin Yeshi Paichang plays him at age 2.
"It wasn't the kind of film where a Hollywood actor could really be in it, quite honestly. In this day and age, people won't accept people in makeup playing different races," Scorsese said.
Because of the on-going Chinese occupation of Tibet, Scorsese couldn't shoot his film there. After an extensive location scouting process, he settled on Morocco. The country's high desert and mountains provided an ideal backdrop, and the growing film community there provided the necessary technical support.
"Kundun" will be released in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day and throughout the rest of the U.S. on January 16th.
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