The Tibetan people are well known for being devoutly religious and peace loving. What is less known is that for nearly two decades, thousands of Tibetans took up arms against the invading forces of Communist China and waged a bitter and bloody guerrilla war. From the mid-1950s until 1969 they were aided in their efforts by an unlikely ally – the CIA.
Between 1957 and 1969 the CIA armed, financed and helped to train Tibetan guerrillas who operated, first inside Tibet, and later – after the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959 – from a base in Mustang, a remote corner of northwest Nepal. This project, code-named STCIRCUS, was one of the CIA’s longest running covert operations. The withdrawal of the CIA’s support in 1969 was as abrupt as its initial involvement was unexpected: the Tibetans had simply fitted into America’s larger policy of destabilising or overthrowing Communist regimes, and when that no longer applied, they were abandoned.
With unique archive footage and exclusive interviews with former resistance fighters and surviving CIA officers, The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet reveals for the first time this hitherto unknown chapter in Tibet’s recent history – a tale that is both heroic and tragic, full of sad ironies and unexpected twists that overturn all preconceptions about both Tibet and the CIA.
Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam were inspired to make this film because of Tenzing Sonam’s father, the late Lhamo Tsering, a resistance leader who was also the key liaison between the Tibetans and the CIA. They began their research in 1990, interviewing former guerrillas in India and Nepal. In 1993, they were able to track down and meet a number of CIA officers who had been intimately involved in Project ST Circus. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting funding, they were finally able to begin work on the film in early 1998 following a commission from the BBC.
This revised version of the film has captions & subtitles in English. 1998, 50 minutes.
Producer/Director Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam:
Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have been making films together for more than 30 years. They have made several award-winning documentary films and a number of video installations. Their documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds (2009), won the Vaclav Havel Award at the One World Film Festival. They also made the Tibetan feature film, Dreaming Lhasa (2005), executive produced by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Gere, which premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Their most recent narrative feature, The Sweet Requiem (2018) will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Their video installations have shown at Contour Biennale, Busan Biennale, Mori Art Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna) and Khoj Studios (Delhi), among other places. They are also the directors of the Dharamshala International Film Festival, which they founded in 2012 and is now one of India’s leading independent film festivals.