Pema Tseden, a Tibetan filmmaker of Chinese citizenship whose films regularly played at Venice film festival, has died aged 53. His death was reported by Chinese media today. No cause of death was given but unverified Chinese media reports said he had a heart attack.
Widely regarded as China’s leading filmmaker working in the Tibetan language, Tseden’s credits include Jinpa, produced by Wong Kar Wai, which won best screenplay when it premiered in the Horizons section of Venice in 2018.
Tseden was working on two films at the time of his death: Snow Leopard, which is in post-production after being filmed last year in the Three-River Source National Nature Reserve, and another film that he was in the process of shooting.
Born in 1969, in the the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Qinghai Province, Tseden studied at Beijing Film Academy and made his directing debut in 2005 with The Silent Holy Stones. The film won best director at Shanghai International Film Festival’s Asian New Talent Award and best directorial debut at China’s Golden Rooster Awards.
His second film, The Search (2009), won the Grand Jury Prize in Shanghai’s main competition and also played in Locarno. He then directed Old Dog (2011), which won the Grand Prize at Tokyo Filmex, and The Sacred Arrow (2014), which won best cinematography in Shanghai.
In 2015, his black-and-white drama Tharlo played in Venice’s Horizons section and won best adapted screenplay at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards. His next two films – Jinpa and Balloon (2019) – also premiered in Venice, with the latter film winning a Special Mention.
Although Tibetan culture can be controversial in China, Tseden, who had the Chinese name Wanma Caidan, always worked through official script approval and censorship channels. He was also regarded as a mentor by many other Chinese filmmakers. As soon as his death was reported by Chinese media this afternoon, tributes started to pour in from directors, producers and festival programmers across social media platforms.
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