Like most attendees of the Tibetan Freedom Concert music festival itself, viewers of the Free Tibet the film will come to it because of the music. However, Free Tibet attempts to be so much more than a mere concert video. This is a valiant effort, but, unfortunately, an uneven and often unsatisfying one.
Organized by the Beastie Boys and The Milarepa Fund, the intention of the Tibetan Freedom Concert was to raise awareness and money for the struggle of Tibetans to gain independence from the Chinese, who have for decades committed atrocities and abuses against the non-violent citizenry of Tibet. In Free Tibet, performances by such acts as the Beasties, the Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine and Bjork are intercut with archival footage of the Chinese occupation and interviews with the monks and nuns who have been imprisoned, tortured, beaten, raped and even made to eat excrement for merely being opposed to the Chinese government.
Although there are many touching moments, as a documentary of the persecution of Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese Army, Free Tibet can be woefully inadequate. The struggle is given short shrift in favor of Beck singing “Asshole.” And while the performance footage, shot by the likes of Evan Bernard, Roman Coppola and Spike Jonze, is terrific, it is too often paired down, shamefully in the case of John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy, whose sets are completely interrupted by interviews with concertgoers. The film works best as commentary on the apathy and ignorance of the audience, most of whom are painfully unaware of the Tibetan situation and many of whom just don’t care.
In spite of its negatives, Free Tibet certainly provides enough information to pique the interest of concerned viewers to contact the Milarepa Fund to find out more. Of course, music fans will not be dissatisfied either.