Zoetrope Interview
Director Khashem Gyal on film as a religion and how real culture is “inner” culture

Director Khashem Gyal stands on the stage in a panel of emerging directors at the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, in front of a screen showing the Chinese characters for his name written in the wrong order. The moderator greets each speaker with familiarity and turns to Khashem Gyal, exclaiming in welcome and genuine surprise, “We don’t know you very well.”

China’s documentary filmmaking scene seems to regard Khashem Gyal as something of a mystery. He says he has never been to film school, nor does he often socialize with other directors. Born in the Amdo region on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, he later attended the Qinghai Nationalities University to study Tibetan literature. His film production company, Osong Culture Media, is based in Xining, the capital of the far-western Qinghai province.

Khashem Gyal’s first documentary, 2013’s Valley of the Heroes, chronicles a Tibetan language enrichment class in Qinghai, where Tibetan children now attend schools which teach primarily in Mandarin. His second documentary, Daughter of the Light (2020), created with the support of TokyoDoc’s Colors of Asia Award, follows Metok Karpo, an artistically talented Tibetan girl who lives at a boarding school for orphans and goes to visit her estranged father on the grasslands.

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author Tina Xu (徐盈盈)

Tina Xu is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. She writes across film, literature, and society, spanning from indie documentaries to diaspora communities. Her stories for TWOC received the 2021 SOPA Award for Excellence in Regional Reporting on the Environment, and were finalists in Women’s Issues and Photography.

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