Sky Burial, a private ritual where the bodies of Tibetan dead are offered to wild griffon vultures, becomes a tourist attraction in Chinese modernized Tibet. This intimate window illuminates an ideological conflict often hidden to the outside world confronting the potential for oppression in the act of observation.
"Remarkable depth of interpretation, as anthropological observation gives way to sobering socio-political commentary."
As seen on National Geographic's Short Film Showcase 2016, Director Russell O. Bush's VULTURES OF TIBET explores the recent commercialization of a sacred Tibetan funeral tradition known as Sky Burial. In Sky Burial, Tibetans ritually feed the bodies of their dead to wild Griffon Vultures as an offering to benefit other living beings. With the modernization of Western China and the expansion of tourism in Tibet, burial sites are now highlighted on tourist maps and local officials charge visitors admission to view the private ritual. Against the will of affected families, visitors take photos and video, often posting them online. Filmed in August, 2011, when regional tensions became so unbearable that scores of Tibetans began setting themselves on fire; VULTURES OF TIBET reveals the current state of Sky Burial as an anecdote of the larger ideological issues in Tibet today. Exposing a world in which nature and culture, humans and animals, spirituality and politics are all interconnected, VULTURES OF TIBET engages audiences with the potential for oppression in the act of looking.
"Vultures of Tibet achieves a remarkable feat in a very condensed package. It is an engrossing, beautiful, and troubling documentary about cultures in contact, asymmetries of power, and everyday life in Tibet. The cinematography and editing alone will have audiences riveted to the screen. Bush's remarkably careful treatment of a what could so easily be a spectacle of the bizarre and strange is a testament to the filmmakers' commitment to honest and principled documentary cinema.
This video will open up many conversations, from critiques of tourism to the politics of representation. Vultures of Tibet works on a number of different levels that engages audiences in overt critiques and implicit self-reflexivity. It provides myriad opportunities for educators to teach students about cultural difference within a context of a rapidly changing Tibet and an increasingly ambiguous field of global visual culture. For many anglo audiences an examination of Han Chinese tourism by itself will be a revelatory and instructive lesson. Most audiences will gradually come to realize a nesting set of frames that not only challenge the banality of exploitative tourist practices in Tibet but also the vicarious tourism of global internet spectatorship. "
"The film offers a potent meditation on contemporary politics, representation, and power dynamics in minority nationality areas of China. This film will be of interest to those invested in the contemporary cultural life in Tibet and China..."