DER Documentary

Valley of the Heroes

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by Khashem Gyal
color, 53 min, 2013
in Tibetan and Chinese
with Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and English subtitles

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“When no one listens, no one tells, and when no one tells, no one learns; and thus when the elders die, so do the traditions and language.” — Tibetan Proverb

In many Tibetan communities, the loss of Tibetan language has reached a crisis level. An elder generation is passing away, leaving behind fewer young Tibetans who can understand their own native language. The trend is most accelerated in villages at the outer edges of the Tibetan cultural sphere, where Chinese has become the dominant language of business and education.

Hualong County, whose name translates to "Valley of the Heroes", is one such community. Located in Qinghai Province, China, at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Hualong was once a place where Tibetan culture thrived among other ethnic groups, including Mongolians, Turkish Muslim Salar, Chinese Muslim Hui, Monguors, and Han Chinese. Now Hualong is recognized as one of the most vulnerable places for Tibetan language and culture on the entire plateau. Today more than 30% of Tibetans living there are unable to speak any Tibetan at all.

Valley of the Heroes is a rare window into Tibet's shifting cultural landscape. Through the voices of farmers and townspeople, young children and the elderly, the film renders a timely portrait of a community undergoing radical transformation. Their perspectives are accompanied by footage of daily life in Hualong, revealing the region's complex linguistic terrain, where Tibetan children speak Chinese when they play, and traditional songs and prayers are being lost.

Amid these drastic changes, a group of young Tibetans has set out to address the situation. They are students from Qinghai Nationalities University, who have volunteered to teach Tibetan language to the school children of Hualong. Valley of the Heroes documents their experiences, shedding important light on the challenges and successes in the effort to preserve Tibetan culture. Prior to making Valley of the Heroes, Khashem Gyal, the filmmaker, volunteered as a student teacher in the Qinghai Nationalities language program. His dedication to the community of Hualong and commitment to Tibetan language inspired him to make the film. It is one of the first independent documentary films to be produced entirely in Tibet by a Tibetan filmmaker.

Many other villages across the Tibetan Plateau are enduring similar fates to Hualong. Without local efforts to strengthen these communities, Tibetan language and culture at large may soon be completely marginalized. As a rare insider perspective of the situation on the ground, Valley of the Heroes serves as both a warning call and glimmer of hope for the future of Tibet.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Intimate Lens Film Festival, 2014
Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 2014
Beijing Minzu University, 2014
Harvard University, 2014
Yale University, 2014
Toronto University, 2014
George Washington University, 2014
Columbia University, 2014
University of California, Los Angeles,
Tokyo University for Foreign Studies, 2014
Comité du Film Ethnographique - Festival Jean Rouch, 2013
Qinghai Nationalities University, 2013
Qinghai Normal University, 2013
Columbia University, 2013
Reed College, 2013
Machik Summer Enrichment Program, Amdo, 2013
Institute National des Langues et Civilazations Orientales (INALCO), 2013

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