Bhutanese filmmaker Pawo Choyning Dorji has done it again! The Monk and the Gun,his follow-up to the 2021 surprise Oscar-nominated gem Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, made the Oscar shortlist — just one step away from snagging another sleeper nomination. His new film is a keenly satiric meditation on, and gentle critique of, westernization. The film slyly, but fairly, weights traditional vs. modern–innocence vs. jadedness.
It’s 2006 and Bhutan’s King is about to step down so the country can become a democracy and ‘find happiness and prosperity.’ Although a perspicacious citizen points out, “We were already happy.” Bhutan has always emphasized Gross National Happiness, eschewing the necessity for the internet, television or social media, but that’s all about to change. Bhutan’s rural citizens must be instructed on how to vote, meaning how to argue. “You are supposed to despise each other,” they are told, perplexed by this very western idea.
In a separate but related plot, the local Lama (Kelsang Choejey), troubled by the potential outcome, asks his young monk Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk) to bring him two guns before the full moon. This quest ultimately leads to an encounter with an American gun collector (Harry Einhorn), who may have found the holy grail of weaponry.
This clever and entertaining film takes witty pot shots at the divisive nature of American politics as well as our obsessive love affair with firearms. The most the Bhutanese know about guns has everything to do with 007. In the end, the Lama’s intentions turn out to be both gratifying and illuminating.
The son of a diplomat, Dorji’s film career began with him being mentored by director and renowned Buddhist Lama, Khyentse Norbu on a number of his movies. Dorji, then shot his own feature, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, in a remote part of Bhutan where they relied on solar batteries while local yak herders represented the majority of the film’s cast.
With little money for publicity the film shocked many by winning numerous awards and becoming Bhutan’s first International Feature Oscar nominee. The Monk and the Gun is the country’s fourth submission with one disqualification. (Lunana in 2020, which was then resubmitted in 2021!)
FYI: Bhutan is a landlocked South Asian country situated in the Eastern Himalayas and sandwiched between India and China.
Awards Daily had the pleasure of Zoom chatting with the promising young filmmaker.