The youngest recipient of the Druk Thuksey says the award is a recognition for all the youths of Bhutan

Pawo Choyning Dorji, 39, from Bumthang is the youngest Bhutanese and the first filmmaker to receive the Druk Thuksey (Heart Son of the Thunder Dragon) Medal from His Majesty The King for his services to the nation through his outstanding contribution to the Bhutanese film industry during the 115th National Day.

Pawo Choyning Dorji shared what the Druk Thuksey award means to him and his journey on making the Oscar nominated film “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”, and his upcoming new project.

The Bhutanese: What was your initial reaction on being the youngest recipient of the Druk Thuksey Medal?

Pawo Choyning Dorji: I am extremely honored but also very surprised because this is something I have never expected. As Bhutanese, we all know the importance of the Druk Thuksey in our society, culture, and tradition.

I grew up witnessing the most respected Prime Ministers, Goonglens and individuals in our society being bestowed the Druk Thuksey. I have never imagined that His Majesty would be awarding the most prestigious award to me.

It is very important for us to remind ourselves that when His Majesty gives an award like this, it does go to an individual, but more importantly, it goes to whom that individual represents, and I, being the youngest and the first filmmaker to receive Druk Thuksey award in the history of Bhutan, I feel it is a recognition, and a very strong and powerful messages from the His Majesty to the youths of Bhutan.

It is the message from His Majesty The King that through the creative minds of Bhutan, to the storytellers of Bhutan, we have a very important responsibility to play in our country, and it is a testament to the important responsibility that the Bhutan of tomorrow holds in how and where Bhutan goes from this moment onwards.

Many youths, be it musicians, artists, or actors, all said that they almost felt they were receiving the award and were represented. So, I think that is very important because it inspires the youth to work hard; if they work hard, they can also achieve.

‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ has won numerous awards, and it was nominated for 30 awards of all kinds, and on top of that the movie was nominated for an Oscar, but I think the Druk Thuksey outweighs all of them. It is much more important than any awards that I could aspire to achieve as a filmmaker.

Did you expect your work to be recognized internationally, and that your film would be nominated for the Oscar awards, and what were some of the challenges while filming the movie?

Pawo: It was a very small project. My crew members and I were all hurdled up in cold Lunana, eating stale food and waiting for the sun to charge our battery, and never thought that this film would make it to an Oscar, competing with multi-million-dollar production with the biggest Hollywood stars.

I shared the journey of ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ with the Hollywood people, that the film was made in one of the most remote parts of the world totally on solar battery and featuring actors who were never even seen a movie before, made by an all Bhutanese crew. I shared about the hardship we went through living in Lunana for two months.

We made this film about Lunana, to tell a story about Bhutan for the Bhutanese, for our younger Bhutanese and for our children. When they watch this movie, I want them to know this is what happened in Bhutan back then.

We made this film with absolutely no expectations for it to be an Oscar-nominated film, or a commercial success, which it has now around the world. The journey of Lunana from the most remote village to the most glamorous stage, in terms of cinema shows the beauty and the possibility of art and creativity, and it is a wonderful journey.

What are some of the advantages you see for young aspiring filmmakers from Bhutan in terms of producing films for the international audience?

Pawo: Bhutan is so different from the rest of the world. Bhutanese culture is one of the most distinctive cultures in the world, and is very much influenced by sacred Buddhist values. Everything in Bhutan, from the language to the dress we wear and houses is based on the ways of teachings of Buddha. So, the Buddha’s teachings are rooted in compassion, love and kindness, wisdom, and I think that makes the diverse Bhutanese culture has become such a unique culture to tell stories through.

For example, Lunana is one of the most diverse cultural, linguistic, geographical, and cinematic experiences of audiences at the international level. Why the film worked so well because the story was based on the Bhutanese culture and tradition which is based on Buddha’s teachings.

I think Bhutanese filmmakers can also do that, there are so much authentically Bhutanese stories we can tell that the world will connect and enjoy so much. We don’t have to look beyond Bhutan to tell our stories.

What are your next plans, are you already working on a new film? If so, share with us a few things about your new projects.

Pawo: I just shot a film in Ura, Bumthang and the title of the film is “Four Days to Full Moon.” I am currently working on the post-production of that film. I am very excited about the project and it is a very different project from Lunana.

The new project is a little bit of satire, more of a comedic story. It is also about the opening of Bhutan when Bhutan became the last country in the world to allow television and internet and transitioned into becoming a democratic country.

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