OSCARS 2022: Second time's the charm for Bhutanese film 'Luana: A Yak in the Classroom'
LOS ANGELES: Samuel Goldwyn Films has announced they are in the Oscar race for Best International Film after scoring three nominations last year for 'Another Round' (which also saw Thomas Vinterberg nominated for Best Director) and 'The Man Who Sold His Skin'. The company has acquired North American rights to the heartwarming, Bhutanese film 'Luana: A Yak in the Classroom', which is shortlisted for Best International Film at the 2022 Academy Awards.
The story of a young teacher sent to teach at the most remote mountain school in the world was written and directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji. Produced by Dorji, Steven Xiang, Stephane Lai and Honglin Jia, the film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2019 and won the Audience Awards at last year’s Palm Springs Film Festival. Samuel Goldwyn Films will announce release plans shortly.
In the film, a young teacher fulfilling a government post dreams of emigrating to Australia but instead finds himself assigned to a school in the most remote village in Northern Bhutan that does not have running water or electricity. The high altitude, a lack of amenities and the increasingly cold weather as the winter closes in, make him want to leave as soon as he arrives. The local children launch a charm offensive in a bid to convince him to stay before the truly harsh conditions of winter hit. Shot on location in one of the most remote human settlements in the world, the production had to rely entirely on solar batteries. Most of the actors are local yak herders who had never seen the world beyond their village, so they were making a movie without ever having watched one.
Pawo Choyning Dorji said, “With 'Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom', I just wanted to share a story that was culturally, geographically and linguistically diverse from the rest of the world, but a story that touched upon the universal human value of trying to find where we belong. I think during this pandemic, when we suffer so much from sickness, separation and anxiety, celebrating the values that unite us together as humanity does so much to help us."
'Lunana' was already submitted by the Bhutanese government’s Ministry of Information and Communications last year as the Oscar Entry from Bhutan.
Unfortunately, it was not officially accepted by the Academy because Bhutan hadn’t submitted a film in decades and did not have an officially recognized committee. By the time the Bhutanese government was informed by the Academy of Lunana’s submission being disqualified, there was no time to go through a lengthy process of forming a selection committee, submitting to the Academy for renewal and then resubmitting the film for the 93rd Academy Awards.
The newly formed National Film Commission of Bhutan took over the whole initiative. Over the past year, they formed a special selection committee known as the Committee for Selection of Films for International Awards (CSFIA), the committee was made of up respected members of Bhutanese society, including Khyentse Norbu, director of 'The Cup' (Phörpa), which premiered at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes and was Bhutan’s first submission to the Academy Awards in 1999. The committee was officially recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, then they unanimously selected 'Lunana' as Bhutan’s official submission for the 94th Academy Awards.