Documentary casts spotlight on Bhutan at a crossroad

Documentary by local production company contrasts tradition and modernity in the mountain kingdom

To the outside world, Bhutan is a source of wonderment.

The Buddhist kingdom, often called the last Shangri-La, is a Himalayan gem with its dramatic landscapes and a deep sense of culture and tradition.

Equally fascinating is the country's focus on the Gross National Happiness indicator instead of the more commonly used Gross Domestic Product as a measure of its success.

Exploring Bhutan at the crossroads between modernity and tradition is the crux of The Happiness Revolution, a documentary by local production company Xtreme Media, one of the shortlisted finalists of the South-east Asia Film Financing (SAFF) Project Market in 2015.

In its third edition this year, the SAFF is aimed at matching promising feature-length projects with a global network of media financiers, distributors and collaborators.

Call for submissions is open until Sunday.

Shortlisted participants will have a chance to share their project ideas with commissioners, investors and co-production partners during the event from Nov 29 to Dec 1, as part of Asia TV Forum & Market and ScreenSingapore.

The Happiness Revolution, filmed by a four-man crew over three weeks last year, is slated for completion next year.

Xtreme Media executive producer William Lim, 43, told The New Paper: "When you Google Bhutan, you often see the side of it (from) travel brochures. It's a bit of a stereotypical impression of the place.

Supe was one of the first people to own an electric guitar in Bhutan. In fact, he bought it from Singapore.Xtreme Media executive producer William Lim on musician Kunga Tenzin Dorji, also known as Supe

"For this documentary, I spoke to not only farmers and monks, but also some of the more avant-garde people there."

One of the ways the themes of contrast was illustrated was through interviews with Mr Kunga Tenzin Dorji (also known as Supe), Bhutan's "Godfather of Rock", and traditional musician Kheng Sonam Dorji.

Documentary casts spotlight on Bhutan at a crossroad
Bhutan's own Godfather of Rock, Kunga Tenzin Dorji, or Supe.PHOTO: WILLIAM LIM

Mr Lim said of the former: "Supe was one of the first people to own an electric guitar in Bhutan. In fact, he bought it from Singapore. He was one of the first few people to play and teach rock music and a key figure in developing an alternative music scene in Bhutan."

In contrast, Mr Dorji spends much of his time trying to preserve traditional Bhutan music, which is declining in popularity due to genres like K-pop.

Documentary casts spotlight on Bhutan at a crossroad
Traditional musician Kheng Sonam Dorji.PHOTO: WILLIAM LIM

The documentary also features prominent businessman Dasho Ugen Tsechup Dorji, one of Bhutan's wealthiest individuals.

Mr Lim said: "In Bhutan, it is noble and a blessing to become a monk. There, they value simplicity, liberation and happiness over material wealth. Being a businessman isn't always the most attractive career path to the Bhutanese. So how do they progress? For him, there is a struggle."

Much of the shoot was done in Bhutan's capital of Thimphu, but the crew also headed to Chumey mountain valley in Bumthang district and Samcholing village in the town of Trongsa, with the help of travel agent Druk Asia.For Mr Lim, the trip opened his eyes to Bhutan's predicament.

He said: "Will they, like Singapore, rapidly develop eventually?

"There is already this awakening, where people reflect on the price they pay for rapid growth. I think the world is interested to see that."