Vladimir Sis and Josef Vanis in Tibet : A Unique Visual and Textual Documentary from 1954
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|The first and only western visitors (although coming from the Eastern Soviet Bloc) to Lhasa after a three-year gap following the visit of Americans, father and son Lowell Thomas (summer 1949) and Austrians Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter (December 1950) were Czechoslovak army filmmakers Vladimir Sis (7 July 1925 – 7 September 2001) and Josef Vanis (6 January 1927 – 12 February 2009), who stayed in Tibet for ten months in years 1954-1955. They shot an hours documentary film in cooperation with the Peoples Liberation Army Film Studio (established on 1 August, 1952, in 1956, it was renamed August First Film Studio), which premiered in 1956 as On the Road through Tibet (original title: Cesta vede do Tibetu) and obtained an award at the Venice festival. The film captured the construction of a strategic military road from Ya-an to Lhasa, which was mainly built by Chinese soldiers and workers but also Tibetans. Vanis and Sis also published books with a number of photographs and they made TV coverages. Due to the dispute between Beijing and Moscow in 1959, this topic became a taboo in Czechoslovakia until the fall of communism in 1989. Besides these official published outcomes of their documentary work in Tibet and China their family archives contain unpublished private travelogues, correspondence and many photographic negatives and positives. Using both these information sources, but primarily thanks to the not yet known literary and photographic records, the large and deep background of their expedition may be examined for the very first time.