The Tibetan Plateau has always captivated visitors with its high altitude, stunning beauty, and distinctive regional customs. Films on Tibetan spiritualism and culture, Tibetan geography, and the changes that economic development is bringing to this distant region were inspired by the “Roof of the World,” a place where visitors can supposedly “purify their hearts.”
We’ve compiled a list of the eight highest-rated Tibetan-themed or Tibetan-directed films from the previous decade, sorted by official release date, with the most recent at the top.
1. Jinpa 《撞死了一只羊》 (2019)
Director: Pema Tseden
If I simply tell you about my dream without including you in it, I risk losing you as a part of it. But by involving you in it, I increase the chances of it becoming yours as well.” This Tibetan proverb is the inspiration for the film’s intriguing title, which begins with the death of a sheep by truck driver Jinpa. He picks up another teenage hitchhiker, Jinpa, who tells him that he is on his way to avenge the death of his father. For reasons that remain unexplained to both parties, the truck driver is haunted by a coincidental encounter and begins to fantasize about retribution. An award-winning screenplay, this film premiered in September 2018 at Venice’s 75th International Film Festival, where it received the “Horizon” unit’s best script award and the Golden Horse Award for best adapted screenplay.
2. Ala Changso 《阿拉姜色》 (2018)
Director: Sonthar Gyal
A Tibetan traditional song called Ala Changso, or “Please drink this cup of fine wine,” is the inspiration for the album’s title. The plot revolves around a young Tibetan woman named Drolma, who resolves to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa despite being sick. She and her son are taken in by her second husband, Dorje, after she is left behind by her original traveling companions. Drolma, Dorje’s estranged stepson, and Drolma’s father are now traveling with them. The film premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2018 and earned the Golden Goblet Jury Grand Prix and the Best Screenplay award for director and writer Sonthar Gyal. It touches on issues of love, morality, duty, familial bonds, and faith (shared with Tibetan writer Tashi Dawa).
3. Seventy-seven Days 《七十七天》 (2017)
Director: Zhao Hantang
Across Yang Liusong’s 77-day solo trek through the Qiangtang wilderness in Tibet, the film depicts Yang’s search for meaning in life. A woman named Lan Tian inspires him along the route; she lost both of her legs in an accident on one of Tibet’s holiest mountains, yet she remains upbeat and positive.
4. Soul on a String 《皮绳上的魂》 (2016)
Director: Zhang Yang
“Souls Tied to the Knots on a Leather Cord” and “On the Road to Lhasa” are two short stories by Tibetan author Tashi Dawa that were adapted for this film. Despite finding an incredible treasure within a deer’s carcass, hunter Tabei gets killed by lightning. As a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha, he is tasked by the Buddha to transport the treasure to the sacred land, all the while evading hunters and would-be treasure hunters.
5. Himalaya: Ladder to Paradise 《喜马拉雅天梯》 (2015)
Directors: Xiao Han and Liang Junjian
The Tibet Mountaineering Guide School in Lhasa is the setting for this look inside the lives of the trainees. In the future, the kids will work as guides who lead tourists up Mt. Everest, a dangerous but rewarding endeavor. It’s more than just work for them, since they have a spiritual bond with the mountain. This particular pupil is the son of the lone monk at the world’s highest monastery, Rongbuk (which means “mountain”), who believes that humanity should not damage this mountain since it is a manifestation of the Dakini (a Buddhist spirit). In the documentary, this is a major point of contention.
6. Paths of the Soul/Kangrinboqê 《冈仁波齐》 (2015)
Director: Zhang Yang
11 Tibetan farmers set out on a 2,500-kilometer trek to Mount Kailash (Kangri Rinpoche), the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism, in the film Paths of Soul. Devotees are able to display their devotion, wash away their sins and pray for blessings at one of the four holiest mountains of their religion during this pilgrimage, which takes place once every century. Nyima Zadui, the group’s commander, his uncle, a pregnant woman, a butcher, and a disabled child are all included in the film’s backstory.
7. Tharlo 《塔洛》 (2015)
Director: Pema Tseden
‘Little Ponytail’ Shepherd Tharlo is an orphan living alone on a mountain. Although illiterate, he can memorize the classic essay “Serve the People” by Mao Zedong, which he keeps close by and which he can recite word for word in his head. He meets Yangtso, a hairdresser, as he travels to town to apply for a national ID card. To spice things up a bit, Tharlo gets a haircut, sings karaoke, and smokes with a young modern woman. The two begin to flirt until the evening comes to a surprising conclusion.
8. Kora/One Mile Above 《转山》 (2011)
Director: Du Jiayi
In this real story-based film, a young Taiwanese guy attempts to fulfill the final request of his deceased brother by cycling from Yunnan’s Lijiang all the way to Tibet. Love, courage, and drive all feature prominently in the protagonist’s trek through the hard surroundings.