The social changes currently taking place in Tibet are seen through the eyes of a young family in Summer Pasture, a documentary by Lynn True, Nelson Walker, and Tsering Perlo. Although the lifestyle of nomadic yak herders in Tibet’s Kham region has been going on for the past 4,000 years, modernization is now steadily encroaching on its harmony. Some damage has already been done, and the people that this documentary focuses on quietly reveal that, despite their best efforts, it may soon become completely unsustainable.
The beginning of the film may appear deceptively idyllic. We view these incredible, expansive green pastures that convey the feeling of unshakable tranquility ““ they seem to be part of an imaginary land. Locho and Yama are a young Tibetan couple at the centre of the film’s narrative ““ they adore their baby daughter, and work side by side to maintain the traditional lifestyle of their community. However, their hardships soon become apparent, and continue to unravel before the audience for the rest of the film.
The daily routine of a Tibetan nomad is pretty difficult as it is ““ getting up before sunrise and working hard all day, preparing food and caring for the animals – but it’s something the community knows very well, and would be able to handle if not for the complications that drift over from the outside world. Locho and Yama show that it is getting increasingly difficult to provide for a family by trading the yield of their labours, and when traveling into town, it’s not easy to get by without the ability to read or understand Chinese. Being independent from the influences of the Chinese society is impossible, and the effects are only increasing. While Locho and Yama are fairly certain they would like their child to be literate and get a chance to compete in the modern world, they’re not too happy about the prospect of moving to a city.
Aside from the threats of imposed modernity, Locho and Yama face the kinds of daily interpersonal tensions that seem to be common to couples all over the world, regardless of socio-economic status. They worry about their child’s future, complain about the pressures of keeping up with their everyday work, and reckon with the consequences of jealousy and infidelity. They appear to be very close, and are often seen laughing, smiling, or singing together, but Locho’s popularity with other women has made a considerable dent in their relationship.
While getting to know this family, it is easy to find them likeable, endearing, and, most of all, relatable. The uncertainties they face are of a different nature than the ones we usually come across, but their feelings are often on the same wavelength as those of most people in the globalized world.
Summer Pasture uses a quiet and meditative pace to reveal the complexity of serious issues. The subjects of the film discuss their challenges in calm tones, usually in the midst of the steady beat of some daily chore. The film is yet another testimonial to the unsavoury sides of globalization and modernization, showing the effects of large-scale forces on a particular family.