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March 16, 1998 2:00 AM
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Wagner's "Windhorse" Take Two in Santa Barbara; "Friends" Wins "Best of the

Wagner's "Windhorse" Take Two in Santa Barbara; "Friends"
Wins "Best of the Fest" Award; "Character" Wins Three Awards


Filmmaker Wagner Offers Insight Into Film Shot in Tibet and Nepal

by Gail Kearns




Documentarian Paul Wagner's first feature, "Windhorse," won two awards
last night -- as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF)
announced its winners -- the Best U.S. Independent Film award, and a split of
the Best Director award with Mike van Diem's "Character". The event's "Best
of the Fest" award went to Phil Messina's film, "With Friends Like These," a
comedy starring Adam Arkin, Jon Tenney, David Strathairn, Amy Madigan,
Elle McPherson, Beverly D'Angelo and Laura San Giacomo. Sony Pictures
Classics
' upcoming Dutch release, "Character" won a total of three awards,
including Best Foreign Film and the Best Cinematography award (Rogier
Stoffers).


"Windhorse," which world premiered at SBIFF, is the dramatic feature
debut of Academy Award winning documentarian Paul Wagner ("The Stone
Carvers
"). Filmed on location in Tibet and Nepal, "Windhorse" is a
contemporary story of three young Tibetans who in their search for
freedom and fulfillment come face-to-face with their Chinese oppressors.
The film stars Tibetan-American singer Dadon as an aspiring pop star,
and Jampa Kelsang as her disillusioned brother. Virtually all of the
cast and most of the crew were Tibetans with no previous film
experience.


Because of potential political repercussions for Tibetans in China and
Nepal, many of the names of the cast and crew must remain anonymous,
including the key role of Pema, a Buddhist nun. "This was an incredibly
complicated and in many ways logistically difficult project to shoot,"
voiced director Paul Wagner after a second screening of the film last week.
"Much of the film was shot secretly in Tibet. All the rest of it was shot
largely in secret in Nepal." Thupton Tsering, the film's co-director and
co-writer, helped immensely in getting the project completed since the
Western filmmakers were dealing with a language and culture totally
unfamiliar to them. Wagner said it would have been impossible to do the
project without the leadership of Thupten. Both Thupten and Julia
Elliott, another writer on the project, had thorough knowledge of the
political and cultural situation and they were able to coordinate with
the Tibetan exile community to get their full cooperation.


Elliott expressed her satisfaction with the completed film by saying
that "one of the things that was most wonderful for us in doing this
film was that at the end of the project the Tibetans who were working on
the film felt like the community had really come together around this
project and they felt really energized and excited to do something for
their country. . . .Of course, we would love for this film to have a
wider audience and to show in America as much as possible, but we all
feel very happy that we were able to accomplish that much with the
film." According to Wagner, the Chinese government was aware of the film
probably within the first week or so they started shooting. The film was
shot on digital video and transferred to 35mm film. Scenes inside Tibet
were shot with a mini-DV handy-cam which allowed the filmmakers and
actors to pass as tourists innocently filming the street scenes and
other locales that ended up in the film.


Special Jury prizes were awarded last night in Santa Barbara for Best
Screenplay to Akane Shiratori, Masahiko Kagawa and Toshiharu Ikeda for
writing "The Key"; Best Achievement in Acting to Cecelia Roth and Frederico
Luppi for "Martin (Hache)", and Outstanding Filmmaking for "Journey To Xia
Empire
" (Lu Wei, writer/director and Liu Jin Xi, producer).


The Bruce C. Corwin Award for Best Documentary went to Sundance Grand
Jury Prize winner "The Farm" by Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack. The Best
Animated Short Award went to "One Divided By Two" and best short went to
"Titsiana Booberini."

[Mark Rabinowitz contributed to this report.]


[Additional reports from the 1998 Santa Barbara Film Festival will be published
later this week.]

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