Snow Leopard

Reviewed by Roger Gook

A technical hitch at the Alhambra for the Keswick Film Club led to a change of programme. In place of "Lost in the Stars" we watched "Snow Leopard", a Chinese film by the Tibetan director Pema Tseden.

The story was about a family of sheep herders on the high plateau of Tibet who found a snow leopard in their sheep pen with nine dead sheep. The elder son wanted to keep the snow leopard trapped in the pen so that he had some leverage to claim compensation, but his father was more attuned to the traditional relationship with the animals and wanted to release it. The local official was called, along with the police, who all demanded that the leopard be released as it was a "first class protected animal" and that compensation would be negotiated later.

So the scene was set for issues that resonated at all levels. The family was riven by the need for compensation and by their adherence to traditional values. The Chinese officials were keen to impose their views on the Tibetans and China was keen to get some propaganda by showing its care for nature. We learned that the rare Tibetan blue sheep are now in danger from the increase in the number of protected snow leopards. Underpinning all this was the place of the spiritual connection to nature in modern life.

The film, whilst deserving praise for raising these issues, was not entirely successful in dealing with them. The acting was clunky in places and the narrative sometimes confused. The CGI rendering of the snow leopard was a bit obvious and some of the sub-plots didn't stack up.

The glimpse of traditional Tibetan life under the Chinese was fascinating and the film was quietly subversive, showing one of characters learning Tibetan script and language. The director is Tibetan but also a professor at the Chinese Academy of Art, so had a difficult line to tread, but managed to make a film that asks questions that matter globally. Even here in Britain we argue about leaving space for nature, and continue to persecute animals that are "inconvenient", such as hen harriers.