Bhutanese films ignored and unacknowledged

Despite lack of support from the government, Bhutanese films, spearheaded by individuals have attained international recognition 
The success of “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” hopefully would have woken up the government and Bhutanese society to the fact that Bhutan has what it needs to scale peaks and achieve recognition. However, even before “Lunana” Bhutanese documentaries, short films and feature films have been premiered, nominated and screened at different International Film Festivals, which is testament that the Bhutanese Film Industry has the capacity to produce quality films. Films have direct relations with culture and is a dominant soft power, promoted even by countries like China, who do nor really need to depend on soft power, looking at their economic and military might. Further, films can boost tourism and for a country like Bhutan, films are one of the ways to stay relevant in the world. Despite all these advantages, film makers in Bhutan receive no support from the government; in the words of a film maker, “not even a pat on the back.”
Dechen Roider, a prominent film maker, got into the industry as she loved films and wanted to be a part of the process. The passion turned into a career. Despite difficulties faced, such as the need to raise money to produce films, which entails working on a score of other income producing works in between, she says it is “worth it!”
Dechen ardently believes that the Bhutanese film industry has huge potential, with self taught people, who are technically good. “I watch Bhutanese films these days and am impressed with the technical quality. I think we need to focus on developing unique stories and also in scriptwriting/directing. The world is interested in Bhutanese films for sure and we should tap into that but need to hone the craft of scriptwriting/ directing more,” she said. 
On support that the industry could benefit from, she said some of the problem was that the film sector was not clearly designated to a proper agency. “Though it was under the Ministry of Information and Communications (MOIC), it was with a lot of other sectors that MOIC also oversees. The support for film was in trainings mostly, some of which were beneficial. But I think the main problem was that the support was somewhat ad hoc and didn't support directors as creators and artists,” she added. Dechen underlined that with the film industry with own agency -- national film commission, there is hope for regular, effective support in a very focused and systematic ways. “By support here I don't necessarily mean financial. For example, now they will nominate a film every year for the Oscars. Bhutan could actually have nominated a film every year for the Oscars in the past, which would have been a huge encouragement to the sector which has been producing films since 1998. Why didn't they? It wasn’t because they didn't find films worthy enough, it was because they didn't have a system in place to do it, and never took the initiative,” she said.
Dechen emphasized that the main problem films like ones she is engaged in requires “is in being accepted as art and creative expression, and thus being "allowed" to be made.” “For example ‘Red Phallus’ which is probably the most internationally critically acclaimed film from Bhutan was censored in Bhutan. So was Hema Hema,” she said.  “So forget financial support, first films and voices need to be encouraged as expression. Filmmakers like us have worked years in raising funds to make the film, forging our own way forward without financial support or government support. That would be first step. But again, I have faith in the NFC,” Dechen said.  
She added that other forms of support could be in development of films (not production). “I feel Bhutanese film sector really needs that exposure and training. Development will help not only in strong scripts but also in building strong coproduction and partnerships with foreign coproduction,” she said. 
The media was also mentioned as one that could support, in creating awareness, both in society and government. She said that when a film like Red Phallus wins a FIPRESCI critics prize in Busan, it is a huge acclaim for the country. When Bhutanese films are accepted in some of the top film festivals (Berlin, Busan,Toronto, Asia Pacific Awards) it is huge. “These festivals select films based fully on merit. I feel there is a misconception in Bhutan that we have some how paid or lobbied to get there. Or even some think the government nominates us. She added that if the Bhutanese media had started covering “Lunana” from the start perhaps the support later when it was in Oscars would have been even bigger. Perhaps then the government would start paying attention, she said.  “And finally support goes back to what I said earlier; about accepting films as expression and culture. Valuing our films even if they don't ‘showcase’ traditional culture in a static way. 
Another prominent film maker who did not want to be named, said he has given up on politicians and the government. “Films are historical records, cultural depictions and the strongest soft power. Dzongkha has rejuvenated and we now know Dzongkha songs because of the film industry. Let’s not talk about contributions in tourism and showcasing Bhutan to the world. Films preserve culture; 500 years down the lane our descendants will know about our culture through films and our leaders think that preserving culture means taking care of Dzongs and other historical sites,” he said.  
On possible areas of support, he said a Film Endowment Fund would be great. “CSR is part of an organization’s mandate. Nu 10,000,000 by economically viable corporations followed by others would be a good start,” he said, adding the government could build links with film institutes for capacity development and find a place in international film organizations. “There are abundant stories to be told about Bhutan, stories that will make people think,” he said.    
Meanwhile, Kelzang Dorjee, popularly known as Solly Baba, said it would be safe to say that Bhutan’s film industry has grown exponentially in the past decade or so. “But I personally feel that we still have a lot to explore in terms of telling our stories in a more original and meaningful way. As long as we can afford to be genuine and true with the stories we tell with our films, I don’t think there is any limit to how far we can go,” he added.
He highlighted that it is inevitable for films to be treated like any other commercial commodity as opposed to a medium of expression of the arts and culture of our society, which he believes it to be. “On one hand, we can’t have policies that restrict diversity in films and censor different interpretations of truth, and on the other hand, expect it to make it big in the international circuit of festivals. Hence, I feel it is not the lack of support, but rather a big misunderstanding of the kind of support our films and filmmakers need,” he said.
Nonetheless, he said “support could start off by trying to find an alternative to the present culture of censoring certain contents in a film that do not fit within the widely accepted narrative of our society, or banning a film altogether when we fail to understand it.” “Once we find a way around it, I think the rest of the much-needed support system will sprout by itself,” he noted.
Kinley Tshering from SAMUH said Bhutan has a generation of upcoming filmmakers willing to tell stories that transcend borders, appealing to a much bigger global audience. We need to tap that creative force and give wings to their stories. “Bhutan stands to benefit as more and more films travel to festivals, big and small. We can never undermine the soft power of films and its influence on societies,” he said.
Meanwhile, The Journalist could not contact responsible agencies mandated to promote films and culture for comments. 

1. The Red Phallus' (feature film) – By, Tashi Gyeltshen (won the FIPESSCI Award at Busan International Film Festival 2028, nominated for Crystal Bear Generation 14plus - Best Feature Film Prize at Berlin International Film Festival 2019
The Red Phallus was also nominated for Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Youth Feature Film 2020
2. Honey Giver Among the Dogs (feature film) – By Dechen Roder (Won special Jury Prize, won the Comundo Youth Jury Prize, and Special Mention by the International Federation of Film Clubs at  Fribourg International Film Festival 2017
3. A song of silence – By, Kelzang Dorjee (Solly Baba) - premiered at Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland
 4. Why is the Sky Dark at Night (shortfilm) – By Kelzang Dorjee
First entry into short film competition at Busan International Film Festival 2021
Competition entry at Winterthur Short Film Festival 2021, Switzerland
5. Gangnam Girls - Charmi Chheda
Premiers as closing film at UK Asian Film Festival 2022 happening on May this year
Won Paris international Film Awards, New York Women Film Awards
6. Like a Moonflower (short film) – By Upasana Dahal
Premiered at Dharamsala International Film Festival 2021
7. The Next Guardian - documentary by Arun Bhatarai
Winner of best documentary Zsigmond Vilmos Film Festival.