By Nathan Duke
Students at Long Island City High School gave the royal treatment to the 17-year-old king of Tibet who wore jeans and a T-shirt as he screened his first film last week in the school’s auditorium.
Namgyal Wangchuk Trichen Lhagyari, the exiled Dharma king, showed his 30-minute autobiographical documentary, “My Country is Tibet,” to a room filled with hundreds of Long Island City HS students June 2.
The movie focused on his responsibilities as the next in a 1,000-year line of Dharma kings, but also his struggles to lead Tibetans while living as an exile in India.
“A lot of my countrymen have given up their lives for the sake of our country,” said the king, whose black T-shirt had an image of the Dalai Lama and a peace symbol. “A lot of them still have hope.”
The king was crowned at age 12 in 2004 by the Dalai Lama. His father had been imprisoned for 20 years and, upon being released, moved his family to Dharamsala, India, where the king still lives with his mother and sister.
“My Country is Tibet” is directed by Namgyal in collaboration with BYKids, a nonprofit that pairs youths with mentoring filmmakers to create short films about their lives.
The movie explores religion and cultural traditions as well as delving into the political unrest between China and Tibet. In 1959, the Dalai Lama and his government fled to India to set up the Government of Tibet in Exile. The People’s Republic of China then asserted control over Tibet.
But the film also shows the king involved in other activities that are typical to many teenagers, such as playing video games, watching movies, studying, jogging and cleaning clothes.
He is currently studying for college and hopes to attend school in the United States.
Students loudly cheered at the end of the film and a short question-and-answer session was held.
Namgyal also met with a group of students associated with Global Kids Inc., a Manhattan-based group that leads social action initiatives in public high schools throughout the five boroughs, following the screening. A handful of the students were either born in his home country or were of Tibetan origin.
Two students once attended school with the king in India.
“We met last weekend and talked a lot about the past and school life in India,” said Tenzin Dasel, 18, a junior at Long Island City HS. “We were in the same class there.”
The king’s film will soon screen as part of the American Film Institute’s Silver Docs festival for documentaries in Washington, D.C.
Holly Carter, founder and executive director of BYKids, said she watched “My Country is Tibet” prior to the king’s visit to the United States.
“As a filmmaker, he has a very articulate voice,” she said. “I felt like I knew him very well from watching his film before he even got off the plane.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.