Bhutan’s historic journey on Pawo’s incredible Yak

Bhutan’s historic journey on Pawo’s incredible Yak
Pawo says he had no expectations and that he was in for the ‘journey’ and to represent Bhutan in the best way he could

Thinley Choden, 21, will never forget March 28, 2022. It was the first time she got up at 4.00 AM and she remained awake as she did not want to doze and miss the Oscars. Similarly, Tandin Wangchuk will not forget the morning, too, but for a different reason. He woke up in his camp at Samdrup Jongkhar and realized he had not charged his phone and missed the awards as he had no television.
Like Thinley and Tandin, there are thousands of people within and outside Bhutan, in whose minds, March 28, 2022 is etched, never to be forgotten. It was a day Bhutan was recognized, “Lunana: A Yak in The Classroom” adored and Pawo Choyning Dorji, honored. Though, the film did not win the awards, as many say, it won the hearts of millions. Hollywood icons like Kathryn Bigelow (who won the Best Director award) said “Lunana: A Yak in The Classroom,” was her favorite movie and Barbara Brocolli, Producer and franchise owner of all the James Bond films followed suit, declaring “Coda” and “Lunana” were her favorites movies.    
And Pawo Choyning Dorji, Director of "Lunana", in all his modesty said the whole experience of being in Hollywood for the past weeks, leading up to the actual ceremony was very surreal. “I kept wondering if I was really here. We must realize that apart from history being written with Bhutan being represented at the Oscars, it is the journey of a small film, by a first-time director, from a poor country, a journey that doesn’t usually happen in the Oscars,” director Pawo, still in the United States, expressed. 
Pawo added that in the history of the Oscars, particularly in the Best International Film race, films from poorer countries don’t usually make it to the nomination rounds. “We weren’t supposed to be here, and this whole journey was one that was a so unexpected. From the beginning, I had no expectations, I was in for the ‘journey’ and to represent Bhutan in the best way I could,” he added.
When asked if “Lunana” at the awards would have transformed in some ways the global perception of the Bhutanese film industry, “I definitely think it did,” Pawo said, emphasizing that with hundreds of thousands of films being made the world over, and for a Bhutanese film made in Bhutan by an all-Bhutanese crew and cast, to be recognized on a global stage as one of the five best films in the world really does celebrate the progress Bhutanese film industry has made over the years. “This nomination is not something I achieved, nor is it something ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ achieved, it is something that was achieved by Bhutan as a nation,” he replied. 
Drawing an analogy, he said India and China represent two of the biggest film industries outside of Hollywood, where billions of dollars are spent to make thousands of films every year. “They have been submitting films every year to the Oscars and they spend so much more to campaign for their Oscar films, which they rightfully see as their cultural and artistic ambassadors. In the 94 years of the Oscars, India has earned only three nominations: Mother India (1958), Salaam Bombay (1989) and Lagaan (2002). China also has had only two nominations: Ju Dou (1990) and Hero (2002)” Pawo said. “On the other hand, Bhutan has achieved something so historic with just our second submission. The international film community has taken notice of this, and now I hope we can grow on this,” he accentuated.
Pawo mentioned that many of the personalities, the stars of the global movie world he met in Hollywood were genuinely happy for Bhutan and Lunana. “They were also very impressed Bhutan was able to produce an Oscar nominated film, given the many financial and logistical challenges filmmakers in Bhutan face,” Pawo said. Individuals like Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first woman to win Best Director for the film ‘Hurtlocker’, had said that ‘Lunana’ was her favorite film of the year. Barbara Brocolli who is the Producer and franchise owner of all the James Bond films has stated that for her ‘Coda’ and ‘Lunana’ were her favorites. “To be recognized by the most accomplished filmmakers really means a lot, and inspires us to create more,” the director underlined.
On what he thought Bhutanese filmmakers ought to do to make it like he did, Pawo said Bhutanese need to realize that we don’t have to search outwardly for inspirations to tell Bhutanese stories. “There is so much inspiration within Bhutan, we need to tell Bhutanese stories in the Bhutanese way. Story telling forms such an important foundation of Bhutanese society. In many dialects across Bhutan, to tell a story is to ‘untie a knot’,” he said, describing it is a beautiful way of looking at story telling! “We see stories as something that has a higher purpose, it frees, it liberates, and it ‘unties’. I think Bhutanese story tellers need to see films as mediums to ‘untie’,” he said.
 While there are many moments he would cherish, Pawo narrated one incident, which “touched” him.  “After the ceremony there was a Governor’s Ball, a party for the nominees. At the ball, I met Jane Campion, who had just won Best Director for ‘Power of the Dog’. She gave me her Oscar and said, ‘here why don’t you hold it for a while’. It was the first time I was holding an actual Oscar, and it was heavy with prestige and history. She then said ‘this is your first film’. ‘No matter what, just continue to keep telling stories from your heart and one day you will get your own,” Pawo recounted. 
Further, he mentioned that during the International Films press conference, he looked over at the Directors of the other four international films, the Directors of ‘Drive my Car’ (Japan), ‘Worst Person in the World’ (Norway), ‘Flee’ (Denmark) and ‘Hand of God’ (Italy). “I told them that I never went to film school, and I learnt how to make films by watching films of master filmmakers, theirs included to learn how to make films.” Pawo said he joked with them and said how he was supposed to now ‘compete’ against the very people who inspired him to become a film maker. “Joachim Trier, the Director of ‘Worst Person in the World’ hugged me and said ‘the world needs films like Lunana’. ‘The five of us represent the world outside of Hollywood, a bigger world. No matter what, we need to support and be protect each other’. I thought that was very sweet of him, especially given this was my first film,” Pawo described.  
Right from the beginning Pawo had maintained that it is the journey which matters and his journey has not ended with “Lunana: A Yak in The Classroom.”  “I have been working on a potential project the past few months. I had to put it on hold because of the Oscars. Now I hope to get back on it,” he replied, when asked what his next project was.