Foreign Policy Blogs

The Saltmen of Tibet (1997)

Journey to the rooftop of the world and be bored out of your skull.
This documentary is about as interesting as watching paint dry but feels like it takes even longer.
It should be a fascinating look into an ancient culture virtually untouched by the modern world.
Instead it tortures the viewer with scenes like five minute-long segments of a person singing.
The basic story is that the saltmen of Tibet’s Changtang region need salt to barter for barley.
Every spring several of the male nomads travel for a 90-day journey to collect salt from Lake Tsento and carry it back by yak.


There are so many ways this could have been a better movie.
Where the lingering shot could have been used sparingly to add some intimacy, it is overused and reveals the fact that these men are profoundly boring.
And, there are just so many times the audience can see the men gathering salt. Once or twice would have been enough, but again the whole process is over filmed.
What could have saved this movie is the exposition of the ancient rituals practiced by the group. But even that is overlong.
The backdrop of this movie is the harshly beautiful landscape of Tibet. It is a forbidding land that shapes the lives of the people who populate it.
But even rugged beauty can become tedious to look at when yak after yak is shown traversing it.
This film is one to be skipped.
The Saltmen of Tibet is available for rent.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]



Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;