Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

Genre: General Viewing Feature Film 

Country: Bhutan

Language: Bhutanese

Release: January, 2020

Awards: The inspirational story of Bhutan’s first Oscar nod: ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’

The inspirational story of Bhutan’s first Oscar nod: ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’

The film Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, was nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature Film. It traces the year-long transformative journey of a young Bhutanese teacher, Ugyen Dorji (played by actor Sherab Dorji).

Lunana had its US premiere in January 2020 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and its New York premiere in September 2020 as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, which was held virtually. Honored as the opening selection at the Film Festival Della Lessinia in Italy, where it won Best Film, it was recently selected to represent Bhutan at the Oscars in the International Feature Film category. (This is only the second time that the tiny Himalayan nation has had an Oscar entry; the first was Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s movie The Cup, in 1999.)

This is Bhutanese writer and director Pawo Choyning Dorji’s first film – and Bhutan’s 2nd Oscar Nomination. The film is set in the real village of Lunana, a remote community of nomadic yak herders situated at a breath-taking altitude above 11,000 feet.

This endearing film is suitable for the whole family. Through breath-taking scenery, it follows teacher Ugyen on his year in the remote Himalayas and we experience his difficult but rewarding journey as he gets to know his pupils and learns about himself. It was a similar real-life experience for director Pawo Choyning Dorji, who spent a year and a half preparing for filming, hauling in all of the necessary equipment and overseeing the construction of housing for his crew. He used this time to get know the locals whom he cast and hired to play themselves, and wrote details of their lives into the script.

“They’d never set foot in a cinema or seen a movie,” he says. “They acted naturally, as they were, and it worked out in a beautiful way.” He shared more about the movie and its message in an interview with NPR. Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist based in Madurai, Southern India.  

And then on top of that, they made this film carbon negative!

In Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, a teacher in Bhutan is sent — against his wishes — to a remote village to work for a year. A spiritual awakening ensues in a remote place with no electricity and great respect for educators. One of the students in Lunana says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up because he wants to “touch the future.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films

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Watched by Kim on 4 January 2023

Ugyen and Norbu