While the world is cheering the Indian documentary film The Elephant Whisperer for winning the Oscars in the best documentary film category, last year’s Bhutanese foreign film nomination ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom‘ still continues to win hearts. The only film ever nominated for Oscars from Bhutan has won 20 awards and 10 nominations at various film festivals across the world, and is now live and running in the UK and receiving great reviews
The film was made in 2019 by Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji and won Audience Choice and Best of the Fest award at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival. It was supposed to be submitted that very year but due to some error it had to wait until the following year to create history. The film has won awards at many prestigious film festivals namely Chichester International Film Festival CinemAsia Film Festival, Hebden Bridge Film Festival and International Film Festival Innsbruck to name a few.
The son of a diplomat, Dorji studied International Relations in the United States of America and then got a Masters in Buddhist Studies from Dharamshala. He is the youngest recipient of Bhutan’s highest civilian award, the Druk Thuksey, the Heart Son of the Thunder Dragon. It was bestowed to him by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on December 17th, 2022, the 115th National Day of Bhutan. In his speech, Dorji was heard saying that it is a matter of pride and he hopes to inspire more and more Himalayan filmmakers with this victory.
The film was listed as one of the most loving films of 2022 on film rating sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and IMBD.
The film is set in Lunana, a remote village in the Gasa district where Ugyen (Sherab Dorji), a young teacher from the Bhutanese capital Thimphu, has been sent on a posting to Bhutan’s remotest school. He desires to go to Australia to follow his passion for singing, but soon his urban attitudes are transformed by encountering a community living in not-so-ideal conditions but seemingly exemplifying Bhutan’s official ideal of increasing “Gross National Happiness”
The film has put both Lunana and our unique concept of ‘Gross National Happiness ‘ on the world map. It is expected that film will provide a boost to our tourism industry and more and more people from the West would want to travel to the remote part of our country and will appreciate the idea behind ‘high-value low volume ‘ tourism. Bhutan charges 65 Dollars per night as a sustainability fee for tourists coming from western countries.