‘Lunana, A Yak in the Classroom”: Bhutan’s Oscar entry to encourage its small film industry

‘Lunana:  A Yak in the Classroom’, a Bhutanese film, shot by just 35 local crew in a remote far western Bhutanese village,  was among five films nominated for an Oscar award last month in the International Feature Film category—a first for the Himalayan country of  750,000 people

Mar 02, 2022
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‘Lunana, A Yak in the Classroom”: Bhutan’s Oscar entry  to encourage its small film industry (Photo: Youtube)

‘Lunana:  A Yak in the Classroom’, a Bhutanese film, shot by just 35 local crew in a remote far western Bhutanese village,  was among five films nominated for an Oscar award last month in the International Feature Film category—a first for the Himalayan country of  750,000 people. 

It was a remarkable feat for 38-year-old Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji to get this nomination for his film, shot with relatively untrained child actors in Lunana Valley— where solar-powered batteries are the only power source—that could only be reached by eight days’ walk from the nearest village connected to a motorable road.

“Somehow we now find ourselves nominated for an Oscar,” Dorji was quoted as saying by The New York Times. “When I found out, it was so unbelievable that I kept telling my friends, ‘What if I wake up tomorrow and I realize all this was a dream?’” he added. 

The film’s story tells the transformation of a reluctant young teacher from Thimphu, the country’s capital, who was posted to the Lunana village. His teaching experience in the remote valley with kids, still untouched by the 21st modernization of the globalized world, turned him into a passionate teacher.

In the film, Dorji also captured the profound social and psychological changes that are slowly becoming visible in Bhutan, a society of tightly-knitted relatively closed communities. 

Many teachers in the last few years quit their jobs and native places only to shift to foreign countries for the prospect of better paying easy jobs— a new phenomenon in Bhutanese society, but common for others. Dorji, in the movie, tells how the reluctant teacher defied this trend.

Describing the film as a “breath of fresh air”, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee told Dorji, “It’s a precious, precious, very simple but very touching movie.” 

Three main characters in the movie— all played by unprofessional child actors—are from Lunana, the village name which means dark in the local language. The success of the film is a much-needed confidence booster for the small film industry of Bhutan. 

In the last few years, the Bhutan government has adopted significant measures and policies to support filmmaking in the country, a market too small to sustain an independent film industry.

The movie is now being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films and marketed by a public relations agency with offices in New York and Beverly Hills, California, The New York Times said.   

At a time when access to Hollywood and Bollywood films has become easier than ever before due to the rise of OTT platforms, producing films with local context that could also fetch a global audience is challenging. And this is what makes the journey of “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” to the Oscars an extraordinary achievement for Bhutan. 

(SAM)

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