How a film from Bhutan got an Oscar nod. ''Lunana : A Yak In The Classroom'' was made on a shoestring budget in a remote Himalayan village.

As a crew of 35 people prepared to make a movie in Bhutan's remote Lunana Valley, they faced a slew of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The valley had no electricity. It could only be reached by walking eight days from the nearest village.  And the school children who were expected to star in the film knew nothing about acting or cinema.

''They did not even know what a camera was or what it looked like,'' Namgay Dorji, the village schoolteacher, said in a telephone interview.

This month, the movie, ''Lunana : A Yak in the Classroom,'' was nominated for an Academy Award - a first for Bhutan, Its director, Pawo Choyning Dorji, said he had been on an 'improbable journey' ever since deciding to shoot the film, his first, in a Himalayan village about three-miles above sea level.

''It was so improbable that I thought I wouldn't be able to finish,'' said Mr. Dorji, 38, who is from a rural part of Bhutan that is east Lunana.

''Somehow we now find ourselves nominated for an Oscar,'' he added. ''When I found out, it was so unbelievable that I kept telling my friends : ''What if I wake-up tomorrow and I realize all this was a dream?''

The '' Dark Valley ''

''Lunana,'' which was released digitally last week, tells the story of a young teacher from Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, who is assigned to work at a remote mountain school against his will. He dreams of quitting his job, emigrating to Australia and pursuing a career as a singer.

But the teacher, Ugyen, is fascinated by the people he meets in Lunana - particularly the 9-year-old Pem Zam, a radiant student with a difficult home life. As the months go by, he begins to take his job seriously.

Mr. Dorji, who wrote the script, said he made a teacher the protagonist after reading news reports about the Bhutanese educators quitting their jobs. He saw that as a symbol of discontent in a poor, isolated country where globalization has caused profound social changes.

His cast presented another challenge. The three main roles were played by nonprofessional actors from Thimphu. The others were all from Lunana - a place where families survive through subsistence agriculture and by harvesting valuable alpine fungus - and had never even seen a movie.

''The camera in front of them could have been a yak, for all they cared,'' Mr. Dorji said.

Mr. Dorji also shot scenes in the order they appear in the film, so that his actors could let their characters develop with the story. He also added scenes that he felt were poignant examples of real village life.

One example : In a scene where Ugyen teaches his students how to use a toothbrush, they aren't acting; they really didn't know.

The result is a film that successfully captures a sense of innocence, the Oscar-winning director Ang lee told Mr. Dorji in a video call last month. He described ''Lunana'' as a ''breath of fresh air.''

''It's a precious, precious, very simple but very touching movie,'' Mr. Lee said. 

''Thank you for going through all that and sharing your country and culture with us.''

News of the film's success has trickled back to Lunana, according to Kaka, a 51-year-old village headman there who goes by one name. ''The people back home are happy that their village has become known to the world,'' he said by telephone.

Namgay Dorji, 35, the real-life school teacher whose experience of living in the Lunana valley for a decade inspired parts of the script, said the film's international success had inspired him to stay in the area longer than he had once planned to.

''When I was in front of the camera, I wasn't that excited,'' said Mr. Dorji, the school teacher, who appeared in the film as an extra. ''But after watching it and listening to the children's dialogue, I realized how much hardship our community has had to overcome.''

The World Students Society thanks authors Chencho Dema and Mike Ives.


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