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Harmony under Pressure

Tibet plateau Himalayas. Milking yaks in front of nomadic black tents, meditating during demolition in the mega-monastery Larung Gar, prefabricated building mania of the young cities. Sky burial, Tsa-Tsa ritual, landscapes, everyday life and death. PA-JILL meanders through the reality of Tibetan culture torn between tradition and a centralized state. Interviews with the Dalai Lama in exile, Rinpoches on site, nuns and the tourguide Pemba form a commentary.

Kappes, Sibylle (*1974, Hanover)

is a filmmaker and media artist. She studied at the Freie Kunstschule Berlin and later at the Humboldt University of Berlin, HFS Ernst Busch and KH-Weißensee (BA German Literature/Philosophy). Since 2001 she realized installation-like works in

public space. Since 2006 collage has been her subject of artistic exploration. From 2014 to 2017 she spent an extended period in Asia circling the Himalayas during which she worked on the essayfilm Pa-Jill (Tibet), which got 2018 the Crossing Borders award of the LCB. She is co-founder of the independent documentary

initiative Docfilm 42 and Jury of the Fairness Price by German Acting Award.

Currently she lives in Berlin.

182 min / 2022 / Tibetan-Mandarin-English (ST EN/DE)/ Germany/ FSK 12

Interviews in Exil:

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso

His Holiness the 41th Sakya Trizin Kyabgon Gongma Trichen

Norbulingka Institute Dharamshala Exiled Nun Larung Gar Institute

Interviews in Tibet:

Lama of Yaqen Orgyän Temple Aksu Rinpcho

Lama and Student of Jigme Phuntsog Lungdrup Rinpoche

Lhasa Tourist-Guide Pemba

Director, Camera, Edit: Sibylle Kappes

Sounddesign: Frank Kruse

Niklas Kammertöns

Graphics: Studio Bergfors

Production: sybel.m PW: PA-JILL


Kiez Berlin Filmfest: Best Feature Documentary

Berlin Independent Film Festival, monthly: Best First Time Director, Feature Filme

LA Independent Magazin, monthly: Feature Documentary

Balvarian Filmprice, nomminated


Stills DL:


Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V., Potsdamer Str. 2, 10785 Berlin

Angelika Ramlow: ara, 49 (0)30-26 955 110

Synopsis long

PA-JILL is an associative journey in 32 chapters; this panorama leads into the

interior of Tibet. The viewer as an exploratory traveller is taking side trips along

thematic contexts through cultural and religious phenomena as well as the

way we deal with death in an unbiased way. From that undisguised view of the

other the path leads into self-questioning - about nature, togetherness, culture

and death. It questions the western concept of Buddhism and our

understanding of sustainability and thus leads to the question: How do we

want to live? The look into the past and the foreign culture turns into a

question about one's own future. But it also asks about the future of those

Tibetans, who are facing a wave of resettlement. Hundreds of thousands have

been in the meantime.

The Dalai Lama and Sakya Trinzin, head of the Sakya lineage, remember home

from exile. But the gateway to Tibet is Chengdu, the 10 million strong

provincial capital of Sichuan. Small towns and their market, religious

ceremony and landscapes of the high plateau of the Tibetan Autonomous

Region (TAR) at four to five thousand meters, its passes, settlements and

nomadic yak farmers scape the social geography. Monastic life and agriculture

are the antitheses to the concrete-culture of the sinicised cities. With the

renewed destruction of Tibetan tradition in the current “Leap Forward”,

differences seem unbridgeable. Some cannot bear this tension. They end their

lives in protest. What will be the future of Serthar Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan

Buddhist institute? Death and emptiness are themes.

The small town Tagong, Sichuan Province. Laughing faces of horse riders –

acrobatic riding competition on the hill above the village. White prayer shawls

on the ground have to be collected while galloping. A rider falls - jeering.

Earlier, the double ponies and their rough-legged owners were blessed by

mantra-chanting monks in the acrid smoke of burning evergreens.

A few villages further up, a group of Tibetans gather around a mud hole

producing tiny stupa figurines. These are piled up in the Tsa-Tsa house, a monk

murmurs mantras. Obstacles will be cleansed this way.

The old Tagong monastery is a lively place of traditional life. Old women turn

the prayer wheels while walking an arcade practising the morning kora. Weeks

later, the monastery courtyard is packed with young and old - for the second

time, the Sakya Khempo Luding is visiting from his Indian exile, a highlight of

the year. The Khempo brings blessings and empowerments.

Deeper in the west, beyond the forbidden Chamdo, lies the barren plateau of

the TAR with sparsely scattered patches and pitches of the semi-nomads who

tend their yaks on these summer pastures. Slaughter takes place at night.

Milking begins before sunrise. Butter and hand cheese, sausage and dried

meat are home-produced; despite the almost daily thunderstorms, the burning sun dries everything quickly. Caterpillar fungus is a good side income, coveted by Han Chinese as a Chinese medicine. In the off-camera commentary, the Dalai Lama reflects on his country, the conflict with China and a common future. Only if autonomy and culture can be preserved, he stresses.

The valley near Serthar is filled from the foot to high above the crest with red

log huts close together. They have grown organically, each patch densely

inhabited. This is Larung Gar, founded in 1985 by the treasure revealer Jigme

Phuntsog, grown huge since then. It is considered a place of free spirit. Buddhist texts are studied, nuns trained, everyone is allowed to stay. Sky- burials take place here daily; Tibetans come from all over the country to bid their relatives a traditional farewell. There are classes of Buddhist Philosophy in Tibetan and Chinese, the lay followers are spread all over the country, many Han Chinese among them. The place is a thorn in Beijing's side, and in 2015 it began enclosing the Buddhist Institute for the second time. Monasteries with more than 5,000 residents are not allowed - Larung Gar boasts 40,000. After the registrations, demolition takes place. Every day, monks and nuns are sent home - or repatriated. For Tibet also knows such military camps, which are supposed to instil loyalty to the communist state. The monastery continues to operate. “One has to endure the government's measures like a storm”, comments the abbot of the similarly affected monastery Yachen Gar. Losar in Dharamshala. Deep chants of the monks, circle dance of the laity. They celebrate in front of the memorial wall of those protesters who burned themselves to death. In Chengdu, Han Chinese Tibetan Buddhist put export fish back into the lake.

After all, traditional life in Tibet is centuries away from the modern concrete

buildings of the Chinese city. Whether a bridge can be built between these

two ways of life, or whether the Tibetan way of life will inevitably be

eliminated, who can say?! The film PA-JILL will not change or explain anything.

It takes stock of the life lived today at the other end of the Eurasian continent.

Historical outline

Tibet's history as a Buddhist country began in the seventh century AD. Its head

has been the Dalai Lama since the 16th century, the Potala Palace is the seat of

government in Lhasa. The religious state of Tibet, Bö, remained in it’s old lifestyle

until the 1950s, with no exchange with neighbouring states into the remote

highlands. But in the course of the Maoist triumph, Tibet was occupied in 1951

and came under Chinese-Communist control with far-reaching structural

changes. As the situation escalates, the Dalai Lama flees to India in 1959; from

1966 to 1976, the Cultural Revolution rages through the country, and of the

approximately 6000 sacred buildings a handful survive. One of them is Tagong

Monastery with a copy of the Lhasa Buddha Jowo, made here by the Chinese

princess Wencheng in the 7th century on her way to her new home in Lhasa.

After Mao's death in 1976, Beijing politics liberalized and the 1980s saw a

renaissance of ancient monasteries and practices. But 120,000 Tibetans have

since fled to Indian and Nepalese exile, where they remain under the umbrella

of their ancient religious leaders. In the People's Republic of China, Tibetans are

one of several so-called minority populations living under strict conditions and

special regulations.

China's rapidly developing economy since the 1980s has led to a combination of

communist top-down control with profit-oriented economic interests. Attempts

at democratic change by the population with the 1989 Tianmen Square protests

and the 2008 Tibetan protests parallel to the Olympics lead to internal party

power changes and repression. The Chinese population together with Tibetans

Uyghurs, Kazaks, Mongols, Hui and others in the 21st century lives still under a

firewall, birth control, checkpoints, control of the media including the banning

of microphones and the use of film cameras, interference in religion up to the

appointment of bishops and lamas (including the Panchen Lama), housing

restrictions and much more. Little has changed in the threefold division of the

Tibetan population into mostly semi-nomadic rural population, clergy and

cities. The core area of Tibet, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), can only be

visited in group tourism as a kind of safari tour. With 1,220,000 km2 the TAR

remains the largest inhabited restricted area in the world.

In 2012, Xi Jinpin is handed the party presidency.

As I enter the country in 2014, despite the ongoing anti-corruption and

resettlement campaigns, there is hope for a liberal future. China was changing.

People were welcoming foreigners, learning English and turning to capitalism.

Tibetans hoped for Tibet-friendly policies.

But appearances were deceptive. The situation in Tibet is burning. 2020

Government offices revealed forced labour-education campaigns which lead to

factory work on at least half a million Tibetans. Traditional lifestyle is under


Director’s Note

As a German Buddhist I have repeatedly encountered Tibetan teachers since

2002 whose audience has to do without any image of their cultural

background. Tibet is a white spot on the visual map of the western world. There

are reasons for this. Reporting on the country, which has been occupied since

1951, is deliberately undermined by Beijing. Not least because of the 1,220,000

square kilometer TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) restricted area. In contrast

to this, PA-JILL sees itself as a peaceful endeavor to undermine the Chinese

image ban and a communication offer acceptable as an artistic work for both

Tibetans and Chinese. The film is based on three years of research and shooting

on location.

Since my early trip to Africa, I have been preoccupied with what the humanities

call phenomenology and alterity. On the one hand, the insight that the ground

of facts is to be found in phenomena: that inner reality can be read on the surface of the material world and its relations. On the other hand, the conceptual shift that takes place in different systems of reference: Alterity.

Since every consciousness, self-understanding and understanding of the world

is rooted in the individuals specific references, it is essential to depict an alien

world precisely in its idiosyncratic cultural references. Therefore I collect

impressions of this world and reassemble them in the art world of film with the

endeavor to give weight to the phenomena of other worlds in the sense of the

other consciousness (the latter must of course remain an attempt in itself) and

thus create access for outsiders. Therefore, my films do not live from a plot that

is pre-told, but one focus of the work is to arrange the collected set pieces of

reality in such a way that a cinematic world emerges that makes it possible to

experience the Tibetan self-image and living environment. In short, the film

becomes a medium in a multiple sense - a mediator.

Filmography (Selection)

2022 PA-JILL – Harmony Under Pressure

– Essay. Tibet undercover. LCB Crossing Borders programm, with the Dalai Lama

and other high Lamas. 188 min, DCP

2013 GE8EN – The Camera Marches

– Collage. Anti-Globalisation protests at the G8 summit. Direction, production,

editing. Camera Peppa Meissner, Peter Przybylski. Cultural Film Fund Bremen,

BlueRay. 48 min, BlueRay. Arsenal Verleih - Institute für Film- and Videokunst

2011 FORUNDJE – White

– Collage. Encounters with children in Ethiopia. Direction, camera, editing. 60 min,

BlueRay. Arsenal Distribution - Institute for Film and Video Art

2005 k-projekt gen.2

– Social spots of socially responsible advertising. Concept and direction. Camera

Peter Przybylski. GATS statement for Verdi-Jugend/ Attac. 35 mm

2001 k-projekt gen.1

– Four social spots of socially responsible advertising. Concept and direction. Camera

Hannes Hubach. Micropolis pilot film for Berlin cinemas. 35 mm


1999 "menschen, micha, motz, moneten"

– experimental collage of selling Berlins homeless-magazin "Motz" as a student of Free

Artschool of Berlin (FKB), 4 min

1999 "Obsession"

– a short mockery of advertisings temptation and the supermodel Kate Moss, screened

at Tacheles, 5 min

1998 "Dumdadadehi"

– experimental exploring rhythm as student at Free Artschool of Berlin (FKB), 6 min

1998 "Arthur felt free“

– short documentary form on life in a trailer, 5 min


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