Jigmi Wangdi

Bhutanese filmmaker Arun Bhattarai’s documentary film, Mountain Man, has made it into the Oscars 2025, becoming the first Bhutanese documentary to do so. 

Arun Bhattarai shared that the film was inspired by the work done by the main protagonist of the film, Phuntsho Tshering, who is a close friend of the filmmaker. 

“I have closely followed his journey to become a glaciologist right from the time we studied together in high school. He spends months in the mountains measuring the glaciers that are quickly receding because of climate change. As a filmmaker, I felt the need to tell his story because the urgent issue of climate change is everyone’s responsibility,” Arun said. 

Arun added that a message he wanted to convey to the audiences, both within Bhutan and internationally, was that climate change affects everyone at an individual level. 

“This film is told by a child waiting at home for her dad, and also told by this scientist, protecting the mysterious natural world. Using a subtle approach and one family’s tale, I want viewers to reflect how climate change can affect different generations,” Arun added, “At a broader scale I want my film to give off a message about passiveness towards nature, in fear of retaliation, versus urgent action, protection, and love.”

Like any other filmmaker who faces the difficulty of shooting scenes and capturing the perfect moment, Arun faces challenges as well. 

Physically, Arun says he faced several challenges. “It was difficult to hike up the mountains and simultaneously film. Also, I was a one-person crew. The main day of the shoot, my camera stopped working because of the cold and the snow.”

However, Arun said his main challenge was that of a conceptual one. He said that he wanted to make this film a collaborative effort between him and the main character. 

“Much of the footage in the film is shot by Phuntsho himself on his phone. He sends these videos to his daughter whenever he has a good network on his phone. The challenge was to bring all of these elements together in one film. When I heard that Phuntsho’s daughter Yangchen had lessons related to climate change in her school, I knew her voice could be the glue to bring all these elements together,” Arun shared. 

Arun said that his relationship with the protagonist has been able to create a strong resonance in the film. “My intention to tell this story comes from knowing the main character for several years. His sacrifice to measure the glaciers and lakes in precarious conditions all through the year also comes from his tough upbringing and sacrifices he had to make to become a glaciologist in the first place.”

For Arun, making the documentary film helped him realise the urgency of tackling climate change. 

“There is a classroom scene in my film where a teacher is telling Yangchen, ‘We are all children of the same sun.’ At the end of the day, my film is about interconnectedness and being above 5,000 metres, I could see and hear first-hand from Phuntsho how certain glaciers are disappearing over the years. Climate change affects our family through generations. That’s the message of the film for locals as well as global audiences,” Arun said. 

The Mountain Man qualified for the Oscars 2025 by winning the main award at DOC NYC which is an Oscar-qualifying festival. However, the film still needs to compete with other qualified films to get nominated.