The Shadow Circus: CIA in Tibet

Director: Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam
English (subtitled), 50 min, 1998, UK
The untold story of the CIA’s secret war in Tibet.
The Shadow Circus: CIA in Tibet
A still from The Shadow Circus: CIA in Tibet

The Tibetan people are well known for being devoutly religious and peace loving. What is less known is that 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. This project, code-named ST CIRCUS, 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 operatives, ‘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.

Producer: Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam
Director: Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam
Camera: Ranjan Palit, Steve McCarthy
Editing: Elliot McCaffrey
Sound: P.M. Satheesh, Charles Meyer
Music: Julian Stewart Lindsay
Select Screenings:
  • Asian American Film Festival, San Francisco, 2000
  • Mountainfilm, Telluride (USA), 1999, Best Historical Film
  • Mill Valley Film Festival, California, 1999
  • Amnesty International Film Festival, Vancouver, 1999
  • Mumbai International Film Festival, 1999
  • Broadcast on television in UK, USA, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Poland and Australia
About the Director:

Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam are an Indian-Tibetan filmmaking team based in Dharamshala, India. They worked as independent filmmakers in San Francisco and London before moving back to India.

Working through their film company, White Crane Films, they have produced and directed several documentaries, mostly focusing on Tibet-related subjects. These include: The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (1991), The Trials of Telo Rinpoche (1993), and The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet (1998). In 2005, they completed Dreaming Lhasa, a dramatic feature film executive produced by Jeremy Thomas, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

They have also worked on video installations, including Some Questions on the Nature of Your Existence (2007), which was shown at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and the 2010 Busan Biennale.

Their feature documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom (2009), won several awards including the Vaclav Havel Award at the One World Film Festival in Prague. When Hari Got Married is their most recent film. They are also directors of the Dharamshala International Film Festival.

Posted by Magic Lantern Movies LLP on February 2, 2014
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