A Yak in the Classroom: Bhutan’s first Oscars nominee

The film draws attention to the impact of climate change, narrated through the simple yet profound messages of the mountain community.


February 14, 2022

When the Bhutanese feature film, Lunana –  A Yak in the Classroom was nominated for the prestigious Oscars award, writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji hoped that the film will touch people’s hearts. In less than a week, it has become a heart mover as it is being played in theatres across New York to Los Angeles to San Francisco and Miami.

At home, to those who appreciate art, the news came as a relief amidst the doom and gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic. The second movie to be nominated for the international Oscar category in more than two decades is getting rave reviews in the international arena. What is a simple ordinary story for the Bhutanese audience has made an impact on the global audience, especially among those who value artistic excellence.

The Academy Award, more commonly known as Oscars, recognises artistic and technical merits in the film industry and is the most prestigious of all awards. For Bhutan and the film industry that didn’t have a proper film association or industry until a decade ago, Pawo making to the nomination list is already an achievement. To put into context, the Oscars was initiated 94 years ago.

A teacher posted in a remote school with the barest of infrastructure and having to walk for days may not be a new story for the Bhutanese audience, but it is the art of storytelling the writer-director has woven together to present a different film to the global audience.

If the majestic Lunana mountains, the greenery and the myths surrounding the mountain and the community has moved the audience, the film also draws attention to the impact of climate and ecological change narrated through the simple yet profound messages of the mountain community or the close-knit relations among the highlanders and the nature.

Pawo’s film will be competing in the family and drama category with four films from Norway, Japan, Italy and Denmark, perhaps regulars at the international award. A difference in A Yak in the Classroom is that all the cast are first-timers with some of the lead roles like the class captain of Lunana Primary School, Pem Zam, at her natural best.

For the Bhutanese film industry that is experiencing a welcoming trend recently, the nomination to the Academy Awards comes as a huge encouragement.  There is no boundary for artistic expression and Pawo’s film exactly demonstrates that. A welcome change is that we have a growing number of filmmakers, a handful it may be, trying to expand the boundaries. We will continue to see regular commercial films that appeal to the masses and make quick returns, but the small group of filmmakers that try to cater to the sophisticated taste of entertaining and informing is a massive change in the film industry.

Whether  Lunana –  A Yak in the Classroom will bag the prestigious award is yet to be seen, but it is already a big achievement for Bhutanese filmmakers, the industry and the country.

It is a proud moment for Bhutan.

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