Bhutan, better known for its serene landscape rather than its films, is keeping its fingers crossed, hoping for an Oscar to land in the country.  

But, Pawo Choyning Dorji’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” has changed that by hitting it big on the global stage.  

The 2019 Bhutanese feature film had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival and was selected as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, but it was later disqualified. 

However, it was resubmitted as Bhutan’s entry for the following year, being shortlisted in December 2021, and being one of the five nominees in February 2022. 

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“Today I am so very honoured and proud, not as the filmmaker of an Oscar nominated film but as a Bhutanese. The nomination of ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ for Best International Feature Film is a historic first for Bhutan, a small but very special country with so much wisdom and compassion to share with the rest of the world,” Pawo Choyning Dorji said in his Facebook page. 

He expressed his gratitude to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “for giving us this opportunity and platform to share ourselves with the world”. 

“The improbable journey of this little film from the glaciers of the Himalayas to the Oscars is a celebration of all the possibilities in art and creativity,” Dorji said. 

“We hope our film, displaying very simple and essential human values from one of the most remote places in the world, will continue to touch peoples’ hearts, especially during these difficult times.” 

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The film revolves round Ugyen, a schoolteacher in his final year of training, who has been sent to the remote town of Lunana in northern Bhutan.  

He has to brave the high altitude, lack of amenities and a brutal winter. 

The film won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film and the Best of the Fest at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival.  

At the 26th Film Festival Della Lessinia in Italy, the film was awarded the Lessinia d’Oro Award for Best Film of the festival, the Giuria Microcosmo del carcere di Verona Award and a Special Mention in the Log to Green Award.  

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At the Festival international du film de Saint-Jean-de-Luz in France, the film won the Prix du Public, and Sherab Dorji was awarded the Best Actor award for his role of Ugyen Dorji. 

The Tourism Council of Bhutan has congratulated Director Pawo & the team of ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ for the Oscar nominations in Best International Feature.  

“With our fingers crossed we wish good luck at the final and with joys overflowing, we await to welcome the first ever Oscar to the Kingdom of Bhutan riding on a Yak from Lunana, undisputedly the most authentic village,” it said in a statement.  

Most Bhutanese would entertain similar hopes. 

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com