For a film actually shot in Tibet below the radar of Chinese authorities, one might expect “Vajra Sky Over Tibet” to feel more like the kind of underground political exposes that have previously captured life under the Taliban or the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-il. But the movie, the title of which is taken from a Sanskrit word that refers to a symbolic thunderbolt of awakening, feels surprisingly above board as Bush journeys through Tibet's many picturesque nooks and crannies, small villages and larger cities to paint a portrait of a people whose ancient culture and religion, though clearly threatened by the modernity the Chinese seem hell-bent on imposing, nonetheless continues to thrive. Bush himself participates as a narrator along with the Dalai Lama's nephew, Tenzin L. Choegyal, and renowned Tibetan singer Dadon. None of them are particularly enthralling voices, which partly accounts for the film's failure to fully engage, but their sincerity and earnestness is nonetheless hard to overly critique.
What ultimately limits the film's appeal, however, has more to do with content than presentation. Bush clearly wants viewers not simply to appreciate Tibet's struggle under six decades of Chinese occupation and cultural dismantling, but to also appreciate the particulars of Vajrayana Buddhism, the specific form practiced in Tibet. It's in these moments where things drift and dry up, dwelling a bit too much on theological meanderings better addressed in a scholastic environment than an entertainment venue.
This isn't likely to dissuade devotees of the faith and die-hard political supporters, but it seems unlikely that “Vajra” will enjoy the same kind of crossover appeal as the far superior 2004 documentary “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion.” Not that such films are necessarily in competition--in fairness, they should really be seen as complimentary efforts all seeking to turn the world's attention to the ongoing plight of a profoundly peace-loving people as they continue to live under a ruthless, brutal occupation. Indeed, for a people unaccustomed to lobbing bombs of the military variety, the responsibility falls to filmmakers like Bush to lob bombs of the artistic variety. Narrated by John Bush, Tenzin L. Choegyal and Dadon. Directed by and produced by John Bush. A Direct Pictures and Truly Indie release. Genre. Unrated. Running time: 87 min