Fire Under the Snow: Docu about Tibetan Monk

“Fire Under the Snow,” which will be shown in late August at the International Documentary Association conference, reveals the contours of an inspirational story, the survival and activism of a mind and a soul under unthinkable duress.

Arrested by the Chinese Communist Army in 1959, Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist monk since childhood, spent 33 years in prisons and labor camps for the crime of peaceful demonstration. Tortured, starved and sentenced to hard labor, he watched his nation and culture destroyed, his teachers, friends and family displaced, jailed or killed. Now living in exile in India, Palden’s spirit has remained unbroken, and he continues to advocate against and draw attention to the chilling human rights abuses of the Tibetan people.

“Fire Under the Snow” reaches back to Palden’s birth in 1933 and follows him through the Orwellian nightmare that began with the Chinese invasion. It explores the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical violation during his years in prison that ended decades later with Palden’s escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Throughout, the film investigates the basis of Palden’s resilience, who believes that faith in Buddhism and education as a monk helped him survive. Despite the atrocities that befell him, he harbors no anger toward the Chinese, and believes it is part of his karma.

At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Palden participation in a protest hunger strike. Using this highly publicized and symbolic event, he draws public attention to Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics. We witness Palden’s dedication to the cause, his mentoring of the younger Tibetan hunger strikers, and his emotional recollections of lost comrades.

The recent massive protests in Tibet are a sobering reminder that Paldens story continues to be powerful and relevant today – and sheds light on one of the thousands of tales of abuse that have been inflicted upon the Tibetan people for decades. With world attention increasingly focused on Beijing during the Summer Olympics, Fire Under the Snow is a chilling reminder of Chinas human rights record.

Says director Makoto Sasa, Palden Gyatso’s life story transcends notions of religion or political movements, and speaks to our entire earthbound condition. I passionately believe that this film will bring some small measure of hope to those touched by it.

“Fire Under the Snow” includes interviews with Rev, Palden Gyatso, the Honorable Dalai Lama, and numerous world-known Tibetan and Chinese scholars, activists, and dissidents.

Featuring music by veteran composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Producer and director Makoto Sasa studied Media at Keio University in Japan, and moved to New York City in 1998, where she received the M.A. in Media Studies from The New School University. She has made several short documentaries, worked as assistant editor on the films “Going Under” (2004) starring Roger Rees, and “Love” (2005), and was the editor and associate producer for a feature documentary about a noted Japanese Photographer. It won the Best Editing Award at the Honolulu International Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Brooklyn International Film Festival, and enjoyed theatrical and TV distribution in the United States, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Recently, Makoto has been directing and editing several documentaries for SONY Japan’s broadband streaming video website World Event Village.


An Imakoko Media production in association with Argot Pictures and Surla Films.
Directed and Produced by Makoto Sasa.
Produced by Jim Browne & Vladimir Nikolic. Executive Produced by Maura Moynihan.
Edited by Milica Zec.
Cinematography by Vladimir Subotic, Lincoln Maguire, and Makoto Sasa.

Running Time: 75 Minutes
The film is Unrated