Preview – Bhutanese cinema at the 11th Five Flavours Asian Film Festival, November 15-22


Bhutan is a country without a long-standing film tradition, but it is bravely looking for its own voice and a way to combine tradition with new means of expression. This year, the Five Flavours Film Festival will take its audience on a tour of this virtually unknown cinema.

The Bhutanese cinema has only recently come of age. The first productions and TV shows were created in the late 1990s, and the first feature film made exclusively in Bhutan was Gasa Lama Singye (1998) by Ugyen Wangdi, who later became known for his documentaries. The next came as late as 2003, with Khyentse Norbu’s Travellers and Magicians. Today, up to a few dozen pictures are produced every year to satisfy the demand of the local market, but the bulk of them are TV productions, often inspired by both local tales and Bollywood cinema.

Yet, a growing number of filmmakers turns to less conventional forms, searching for an original language to best express the rich and diverse culture of the country. Films directed by Khyentse Norbu, Dechen Roder, or Tashi Gyeltshen have paved way for Bhutanese cinema’s presence at international film festivals, and thanks to the short film festival organized by the alternative art community, the interest in this form of art is on the rise.

Contemporary Bhutanese cinema invites the audiences to one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, combining unique local artistic traditions and Buddhist philosophy with an intriguing, ambitious form and interesting generic conventions. The retrospective at Five Flavours is a rare opportunity to discover the culture of the Himalayan kingdom – both its traditional and modern side.

The special guest of the retrospective is Dechen Roder – director and producer, co-organizer of Beskop Tshechu film festival, whose most recent picture, Honeygiver Among the Dogs (2016), was screened at this year’s Berlinale.

Honeygiver Among the Dogs (Dir. Dechen Roder, 2016)

Foggy Bhutanese forests, a missing nun, a police officer with a puzzling past, and a mysterious woman who seems to know more than everyone else. An atmospheric combination of a noir crime story and a philosophical parable in which Buddhist legends turn into a commentary on a very contemporary story.

Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (Dir. Khyentse Norbu, 2016)

Every 12 years, a group of anonymous people meets in the wilderness to spend two weeks meditating and take part in a religious cleansing ritual. A visually stunning, avaunt-guard drama, combining the traditions of a Shakespearean tragedy with Buddhist tales of death and desire.

Norbu My Beloved Yat (Dir. Pelden Dorji, 2006/2015)

A simple story about a couple from a mountain village – a young man, emotionally attached to an animal he grew up with, and a woman who dreams of discovering what lies hidden beyond the peaks. A clash of tradition and modernity dressed in a poetic form, this Bhutanese audiences’ favorite has recently been released in a reconstructed version.

Travellers and Magicians (Dir. Khyentse Norbu, 2003)

A bitter-sweet road movie a la Bhutanese. A young man sets off on a journey, dreaming of going to America. Among the many travelers he meets on the way, is a storyteller who treats him to an absorbing tale, surprisingly corresponding to the man’s own history.

Prophecy (Dir. Zuri Rinpoche, 2015)

A young woman working in the capital visits her mother in her home town. It seems her arrival may be connected with an old prophecy found in a monastery. A lyrical tale about the uncharted paths of karma, touching upon the question of women’s place in Buddhism.

The 11th edition of the Five Flavours Asian Film Festival takes place from November 15-22 in Warsaw. Festival passes can be bought here.

Organizer: Arteria Art Foundation

Partners: City of Warsaw, The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Polish Film Institute, Japan Foundation, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Berlin, Asian Film Awards Academy.