The Importance of Being Idyll
By Reena Mohan
5 September 2013
Despite a nascent democratic culture, Bhutanese filmmakers face multiple challenges in their attempts to capture ‘life at the crossroads’
Two years ago, while serving on the jury of the Beskop Tshechu (Bioscope Festival) 2011, the first international festival of documentary and short films held in Thimphu, I met Ugyen Wangdi, the pioneering documentary filmmaker in Bhutan. Half-jokingly – and paraphrasing Werner Herzog – he’d declared that “independent film is a myth. Films are dependent on money and a distribution system. Here there is neither. We may be the few idealists around struggling to make an impact which nobody takes seriously.”
Wangdi should know. He graduated from the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune, in 1984 but has not been able to make more than a handful of independent documentaries despite the fact that his films have received many awards at international festivals. To earn a living, he works as a production coordinator for foreign television crews, and also runs his own travel agency. “In Bhutan, audiences flock in large numbers to see mainstream movies but remain unaware of other genres such as documentaries and short fiction. Cinema halls are allowed to screen only Bhutanese feature films, most of which are Bollywood imitations. They are so popular that movie halls in the capital are booked till the following year for releases; villages and towns outside Thimphu wait excitedly for those films to do the rounds. But for short filmmakers there are many constraints: no grants or recognition; no regular venues for screenings, no film festivals. All this can be disheartening for new entrants in the field.”…
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