Tsering Wangmo

by Shannon Luders-Manuel from MY HERO Staff

I am drawn to filmmaking because the universality of human emotions can be captured to connect people from different places in the world.

Tsering Wangmo is MY HERO's 1st Place Emerging Artist winner at the 2019 Film Festival for her experimental film, Conversations With My Mother. Her mother is a Tibetan refugee in India, whose family was forced into exile when she was a child. Wangmo's film provides a no-frills, intimate look at her mother's day-to-day life, which mirrors the lives of many of the Tibetan refugees in her settlement. 

Wangmo spoke with MY HERO about her passion for filmmaking and for increasing awareness about this often-overlooked community.

137582Tsering WangmoPhoto courtesy of Tsering Wangmo

MY HERO: When did your interest in filmmaking first begin? Why are you drawn to filmmaking?

TSERING WANGMO: I was born and raised in a Tibetan refugee settlement in a remote part of India, and we never had much exposure to television content that relates to us. I would say that Children of Heaven by Majid Majidi was one of the first films I saw in high school that left a clear understanding in my mind about how cinema can evince human emotions and stories to evoke empathy. But, it never occurred to me that I would one day make films. In those socioeconomic circumstances, I had no idea about how a film could be made or how one becomes a filmmaker. What really brought me to filmmaking was journalism. 

Stories have always held an important place in my life and the world I live in. It is through stories that I form my connection to my roots and my history. I studied journalism in my undergrad years and was introduced to the world of the visual medium. Having had the opportunity to use and learn photography for the first time in my life, I completely fell in love with this magical instrument. I developed a deep passion for photography and documentary film thereafter. After completing an MA in mass communication in India and after working on a photography project to document the lifestyle of the Tibetan nomads in India, I decided to learn documentary filmmaking at a professional level. That decision brought me to New York University, to complete a graduate course specializing in news and documentary film production. That was the true beginning of my filmmaking practices.

I am drawn to filmmaking because this is such a powerful tool for storytelling. 

I am drawn to filmmaking because it involves creativity and, over time, the tools of filmmaking have become much more affordable. 

I am drawn to filmmaking because the universality of human emotions can be captured to connect people from different places in the world.

MH: Can you describe your relationship with your mother? Has it always been close? 

TW: My mother and I have been close from the very beginning of my life. She had never been to school and had lived as a nomad until a few years after the birth of my eldest sister. Despite the daily struggles, both of my parents had a strong commitment to the education of their children. My mother has always kept the comfort of her family before her own. She has a great sense of humor, and when we sit together, we always have long conversations and we also laugh a lot. She and my father are the reasons I am who I am today. My mother is my friend and my teacher, who taught me to live life with love and compassion. 

She was forced to leave her home in Tibet at the age of eight, and yet never once have I heard her say anything bad towards the Chinese armies who drew their family out to their country. She is a strong woman in every sense, and whenever I am in stress or hold a negative attitude towards anything, she is the person who helps me look at life or the situation differently. I am not surprised at the exceptional wisdom that she holds because she has lived through an exceptional life. 

In 2013, our dear father passed away after two years of struggle with cancer, and my mother is the person holding everyone close and strong. I believe that she is able to remain strong through all situations in life because of her love and compassion towards all. I have seen her kindness extend beyond families, to strangers, and to animals. 

MH: How did you decide on the narrative medium of using her hands as the focal point up until the end of the film? 

TW: One of the biggest physical differences between me and my mother is her hand. Whenever I hold her hand, I immediately feel how rough it is against mine, and this reality is also the reality of how differently we have lived. This also signifies the different life she gave me. The comfort she gave me and the family, against her own comfort. I remember very clearly from my childhood that she would always ask us to do our studies instead of doing chores. She would always say that a pen and a book would be better companions for us. 

MH: Why is it important for you to tell your story and the story of your community?

TW: It is important because as human beings, we Tibetans, our struggle is real and the common Tibetan people’s voices have been rarely represented. As a Tibetan woman born and raised in exile, and as a first-generation to become part of the modern education system, I feel a strong responsibility to keep the memory and the struggle of the previous generation alive and to ultimately contribute towards finding a resolution to the issue of Tibet and Tibetans. 

It always worries me how little people know about the real situation of the Tibetan people. 

MH: What upcoming projects are you looking forward to?

TW: I am working on a documentary that tells the story of Tibetan refugees coming into India and the initial years in exile. I am looking forward to completing the necessary animation work for this project so that I can have the documentary released soon. 

I am also researching to write my first screenplay, taking inspiration from my father’s life. I hope to complete writing the first draft by mid-2020. 

MH: Who is your hero and why?

TW: My parents are my heroes because of the strength, love, kindness, compassion that they hold despite the difficulties they have had to live with. My parents are my heroes because they saw beyond the constraints of the circumstances and built hope and dreams for us to reach the unimaginable and the exceptional.  

Page created on 12/22/2019 8:02:48 AM

Last edited 2/24/2021 11:12:48 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Tsering Wangmo - Wangmo's bio, with additional films
MY HERO International Film Festival Winners - Links to all 2019 winning films