Raid into Tibet

1964 UK, a film by Adrian Cowell, adviser George Patterson, 30 minutes

English with Czech subtitles

The films of the Tibetan film archive evening courtesy of Tibet Film Archive, New York.

Raid into Tibet is the only available film of the Tibetan guerilla fighters who carried on their resistance efforts in Tibet from the remote Mustang area of Nepal from 1960 to 1964. In May 1964, British journalist George Patterson - who had lived in Eastern Tibet before the Chinese invasion - bluffed his way into the remote Dzum valley in northern Nepal where a small detachment of the guerrilla force was based. Patterson was accompanied by a film crew - director Adrian Cowell and cameraman Chris Menges. They met with the leader, a man named Tendar, and tried to convince him to allow them to film a raid inside Tibet. Getting permission from their headquarters in Mustang would take several days.

The three-man film team traveled with the guerrillas over a 20,000 foot pass into Tibet and captured dramatic footage of the subsequent attack on a Chinese military convoy. By this time, the headquarters at Mustang had been appriced of the mission and had alerted the CIA and their Indian partners in Delhi. The CIA was furious at this lapse in security and immediately sent orders to intercept Patterson and his team before they could leave Nepal and relieve them of their film footage at any cost. But Patterson was one step ahead and both his team and their precious footage were able to escape safely from Nepal.

The resulting film, Raid into Tibet, caused a sensation on British television and provided the first glimpse of the ongoing freedom struggle caused by the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Although Patterson made no mention of the CIA's involvement in this secret war, the Americans nearly withdrew their support at what they considered an unpardonable breach of security. In retrospect, the film was the only real documentary record of the Mustang Resistance Force in action. Both Adrian Cowell and Chris Menges went on to carve names for themselves in their respective fields: Cowell, for his films on the destruction of the Amazon rainforests, and Menges as the celebrated cinematographer of, among other films, The Killing Fields.

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