Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bhutan showcase: Film fest to feature flicks from over the hills and far away



Bhutan showcase: Film fest to feature flicks from over the hills and far away

A screenshot from The Prophecy, which will screen this evening at the Cambodia International Film Festival. Photo supplied
A screenshot from The Prophecy, which will screen this evening at the Cambodia International Film Festival. Photo supplied

Bhutan showcase: Film fest to feature flicks from over the hills and far away

With three feature films at this year’s Cambodia International Film Festival, the Buddhist mountain Kingdom of Bhutan this week gets a rare moment in the spotlight for Phnom Penh’s audiences.

In town for the screenings, actor Loday Chophel breaks into a smile when asked how he came to play the leading role in The Prophecy, one of just a handful of movies produced by his country each year.

“Can I tell you?” he asks tentatively before launching into an explanation.

Born in an eastern roadside village called Wamrong, consisting of no more than 15 houses perched on a mountainside, the 38-year-old recalls that there was just one television set in the whole town, at a local convenience store.

“I would go sneak in and watch films,” he says. TV and film was a novelty at the time. The medium, as well as the internet, had only just arrived to the country – which has long sought to shield itself from external influence in the name of cultural preservation – when Chophel was a boy.

“After high school I opened up to my family that I wanted to go to film school. But it was a really new thing, so they thought it was just child talk – that I was in a fantasy world,” he says.

So instead he was sent to Delhi, in India, for university, which he hardly attended and ultimately dropped out.

Back home, he went to work in the service industry. Employed at a fancy resort, he would write screenplays in his spare time, eventually securing sponsorship to go back to India, this time to the Asian Academy of Film & Television in Noida, where he graduated at the top of his class in 2009.

He soon joined the ranks of Bhutan’s nascent film scene, working on a national TV series in 2011.

The community of filmmakers, he says, is small enough that everyone knows each other. He’s friends with the directors of the two other features screened at the festival – Norbu, My Beloved Yak and Kushuthara, Pattern of Love. Just as he is both lead actor and editor for The Prophecy, it’s common to wear many hats.

Through film, he says, Bhutan can not only present itself to the world, but also present its perspective, and its values – which with the arrival of film, television and the Internet can no longer be protected by a natural barrier of mountains alone.

“Culture becomes a tool for self-identity, like the landscape … [but] the process of evolution cannot be stopped,” he says. When it comes to development, he notes “we are not too rushed”.

“If you rush, you overlook and you don’t see the negativity until the last stage, for example with the environment,” he said.

Often described as a highly religious society, Chophel says it would be apt to say the younger generations are more spiritual than religiously dogmatic, and Buddhist teachings have encouraged open and free thought.

“It’s always been this way . . . The youth is allowed to question, encouraged to question . . . Your teacher is a guide and you can take the teaching that suits you,” he says.

But the monkhood is also a key element of the cinema community. The Prophecy was directed and produced by Zuri Rinpoche, himself a monk of considerable status.

The film provides a cinematic tour of the country. Having been filmed in the east, north, centre and west, it covers “70 percent” of the nation’s landscape, Chophel says. But it also explores and interrogates social values, raising questions about notions of gender equality in Bhutan – such as how reincarnation stories favour men over women.

“It’s about universal acceptance,” he says. “It’s a very simple story.”

The Prophecy will be presented by Loday Chophel at 3pm today at the Major Cineplex in Aeon Mall. It will screen again there at 4:30pm on Friday. Khushuthara, Pattern of Love screens at 10am on Saturday at the Bophana Center and on Thursday at 2:15pm at the French Institute, which will also screen shorts from Bhutan at 8:15pm. Norbu,

My Beloved Yak screens on Friday at 4pm at the Major Cineplex in Sorya Mall and again at 11:05am Saturday at Legend Cinema at TK Avenue.

Read our full guide to the festival's screenings here

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting