Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

June 6, 2023 Members’ Choice 8:30pm
There will be a post-screening Q&A with politics and international relations academic Professor Nitasha Kaul, Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, London, & former Fellow of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan

Bhutanese writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji’s first feature film – made on an extremely small budget – weaves together images and stories that he collected as a photographer within Bhutan. Filming in the remote Himalayan village of Lunana was sun-dependent, as solar panels were used to power the crew’s camera, sound and laptop; Dorji explains that “we had no power for lights and it was really like shooting in the dark”.

With no professional actors available – Bhutanese has a very small film industry – Lunana villagers provided the cast, with their real lives incorporated into the story.

Dorji describes the film therefore as a “docu-feature” – for example, the child Pem Zam essentially plays herself in the film. After filming took place, Pem Zam was among a handful of children selected for a scholarship to study at Bhutan’s prestigious Royal Academy school – thereby becoming the first Lunana child to continue beyond sixth-grade education.

The film was an unexpected Best International Feature Film nominee at the 2021 Academy Awards, giving the Bhutanese film industry its first ever Oscar nomination. Dorji has commented that “the journey of ‘Lunana’ gives inspiration not only to Bhutanese filmmakers, but to all small filmmakers, struggling filmmakers … It dares us to dream”.

Dorji’s screenplay finds an ideal balance of gentle humour and life-affirming situations. … Coupled with the glorious visuals of top cinematographer Jigme Tenzing, Dorji has created a package that’s irresistibly entertaining and uplifting.” Richard Kulpers, Variety.

Though rather naive in its messaging and unashamedly sentimental, the film is so pure of spirit and so open-hearted, you want to breathe it in, to fill your lungs with it.” Wendy Ide, Observer.

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Film Information
Release year: 2019
Running time:   109 mins
Directed by: Pawo Choyning Dorji
Language: Dzongkha (English subtitles)
Country: Bhutan
Classification: PG
Genre: Drama
Starring: Sherab Dorji,
Ugyen Norbu Lhendup,
Kelden Lhamo Gurung,
Pem Zam,
Sangay Lham,
Chimi Dem

Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film and the Best of the Fest at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival
More info:

Rotten Tomatoes
WFC Audience Score:  93%

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Screening Gallery

Professor Kaul with WFC Committee

Professor Kaul and audience

Michael Brunt, former Mayor of Merton

In the bar at the Curzon