In 1995, Tibet-born musicologist Ngawang Choephel returned to his native country to record footage of what remained of traditional Tibetan folk music. His film, "Tibet in Song," shares what was heard on the trip and historical context for his search.

In 1995, Tibet-born musicologist Ngawang Choephel returned to his native country to record footage of what remained of traditional Tibetan folk music. His film, "Tibet in Song," shares what was heard on the trip and historical context for his search.

By unfortunate circumstance, it also chronicles Choephel's first-hand experience with the Chinese government's efforts to destroy the country's millennia-old musical culture.

When China occupied Tibet in 1950, folk music was integral to daily life and was among the "poisons" Chairman Mao sought to eradicate from the country.

Having fled Tibet with his mother as a child, Choephel returns to find that Mao's efforts were depressingly successful. Traditional melodies were co-opted for lyrics spouting Communist propaganda. Faithful keepers of the original songs still risk arrest or death for performing them.

During his travels, Choephel himself was detained by Chinese authorities, charged with spying and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In the small blessings department, he served much less, and most of the footage he'd shot beforehand was already in safe hands.

To these images Choephel adds stories from other political prisoners of music as a tool for protest and punishment, as well as his mother's efforts to free him and personal narration that ties everything together.

Cinematically, his work is no-frills, but its substance is terribly fascinating.