In Forbes, Eric Meyer profiles Jocelyn Ford, director of the new documentary Nowhere To Call Home, which chronicles Ford’s own complicated relationship with Zanta, a Tibetan widow who flees to Beijing to give her son a better life. The film had its world premiere at the Museum of Modern Art as part of its current series “Lens on Tibet.”
Ford, a Beijing-based journalist, met Zanta while the latter was peddling on a Beijing street to raise money for her son. Intrigued by the woman’s story, Ford spent three years filming with Zanta and her son and eventually paid the son’s school fees while helping Zanta stand up to her family members in Tibet who opposed her choice to live and work in Beijing.
Meyer discusses the ethical considerations surrounding the film and its director:
Ford faces her own moral dilemma, and she is not shy about exposing this in her film. On the one hand, the foreign journalist is self-serving. She wants to get an inside story about the life of a traditional Tibetan in contemporary China, something the regime in Beijing tries to hide by largely banning foreign correspondents from travelling to Tibetan regions. Ultimately it is the injustices suffered by Zanta, both in Beijing and in her village, that drag the journalist deep into Zanta’s life. It is an infringement of rules for reporters to interfere with the lives of their subjects. Yet, Ford deftly turns this around on the audience. Had she not violated this rule, the world would be less informed about the hardship of Tibetan women like Zanta, and, as a journalist, she would have been more complicit with Chinese censors.
The film breaks down the sometimes romantic Shangri-La view that Westerners have of Tibet, showing it to be a place with many hidebound traditions, especially discrimination against women. It also offers a shocking portrait of the outright racism that Zanta and other Tibetans face in Chinese parts of the country. And it shows how many members of minorities lack even basic education: Zanta’s sisters are illiterate, unable to count their change in the market or recognize the numbers on a cellphone.
The film screens again at MoMA August 29.