Rinzin Wangchuk 

The annual national film awards has been cancelled following a disagreement between Film Association of Bhutan (FAB) and National Film Commission (NFC).

In its press release yesterday, NFC stated that it took the difficult decision to cancel the awards in light of the development of situations and circumstances beyond the control of NFC.

“The decision was taken in the best interest of the Film sector of Bhutan,” the press release stated.

The NFC announced earlier that the annual film awards would be organised on February 21, coinciding with His Majesty’s birth anniversary.

Unlike the past two controversies involving film awards and change in criteria, this time, the issue is with the title of the awards.

This has generated a lot of dissatisfaction and resistance from the members of FAB after NFC took the decision to change the name of the film awards this year to Annual Film Awards of Bhutan 2021 (AFAB).

In October last year, FAB wrote a letter to NFC requesting to organise the 19th  edition of the awards as the film awards in the past were mired in controversy, dispute and disagreements. Even the 20th edition of the awards was almost due.

Given the pandemic situation and the fact that FAB was seen to be in no position to organise almost two back-to-back editions of the awards, NFC saw it as being part of its mandate and function to “facilitate” by organising the 19th edition of the awards.

Since then NFC has been working round the clock even during the weekends to revisit guidelines and regulations for the awards, instituting an independent, fair and transparent administrative system. NFC also formed layers of executive bodies, oversight and integrity committee (OIC), executive working committee (EWC) and the committee of jurors (COJ).

All the members are seasoned professionals in their field and are representing all sectors of society, including the bureaucracy, independent filmmakers, mainstream filmmakers, constitutional bodies and members of the parliament to oversee the execution of the award function to avoid any issues after the function.

Debate on title

To discuss and finalise on how best to execute the awards, including the adoption of the official name of the awards as proposed by the organiser, NFC called a general meeting on zoom on January 23.

However, the members of the committees, as expected, spent most of the discussions surrounding the change of title of awards. While expressing their appreciation to NFC for initiating a visionary plan to set up a state-level National Film Awards with gold standard, they requested NFC to keep the same award name for the 19th edition.

Actor Chencho Dorji said that before changing the name they can advocate and let all the members know about the noble vision of NFC and change award name to AFAB and uphold the prestigious National Film Awards title.

“Since filming business does not require any academic qualification, there is a mixed background of both educated and uneducated members and I feel there should be a formal meeting/advocacy programs to make the members aware of the noble vision of NFC,” he said.

Lhaki Dolma, first recipient of film award, said that there should be proper consultations with FAB members and advocate its members.

“I still feel we should consider the same title as this is a transition period and we need to give time for everyone to understand the future vision of NFC”, she said.

After a marathon debate of more than four hours, the meeting adjourned with the decision to vote in favour or against the title. However, the officiating president of FAB, Nidup Dorji, wrote to the NFC to take back the responsibility of organising the upcoming National Film Awards when the virtual meeting was going on.

FAB was supposed to confirm the meeting on January 22.

Given some resistances from FAB and questioning NFC’s ability, integrity and motive, NFC’s head Singye Wangmo informed the FAB members in writing that FAB should confirm the commission by 5pm on Friday, January 22 whether FAB wants NFC to organise the event uninterrupted or NFC will be happy to hand it back to FAB.

“We saw the letter from the FAB officiating president only after the meeting,” said Singye Wangmo in her clarification letter issued to FAB yesterday. “As all of you can ascertain for yourselves, we were left benumbed and speechless by the baseless allegations in the letter.”

Further to that, she said: “While it may be perceived and celebrated as a satisfying tit-for-tat act by some, for NFC the issue surrounding this whole sorry episode is indeed very serious and we will reflect most carefully on how to avoid such embarrassing situations not of our making in the future.”

“We have heard for quite some time now that FAB is obsessed with the ludicrous notion that NFC is taking away their powers,” the head stated. “This present conduct demonstrated by FAB is sufficient proof of where they stand and what they are capable of.”

NFC’s position

NFC stated that the reason for changing the name of the awards to AFAB is because “gold standards” will have to be followed to grant the title of “National Film Awards”. 

NFC also notified the film fraternity as well as the public through press release that a NFA would be institutionalised and instituted in the future and that it would be fundamentally different from the current award.

NFC did not make this statement lightly or casually. “A lot of thinking, discussion and consultation has gone into it,” NFC stated.

NFC also stated that the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) is fully supportive of the idea and has agreed to lend all-out institutional support to NFC to work towards establishing a state-level national film awards in the future truly bearing the “gold standard”.

Legal instruments to institutionalise and govern such an award will be drafted after thorough consultations and study and the same will be presented to the Cabinet, to the appropriate Parliamentary Committee(s) or perhaps even the Parliament and ultimately to His Majesty The King.

“The title of the NFA must be special and sacred. It must not be easily and cheaply claimed or granted,” NFC’s position on why the title of the annual film awards cannot be NFA shared with the members stated.

FAB’s stand

In his letter to the NFC, Nidup Dorji stated that the very reason to request NFC to organize the upcoming National Film Awards (NFA) is with the hope that NFC would organise the event in a more professional manner. “But nothing seems to work as we have expected,” he stated adding that it was a surprise that NFC took the decision to even change the name of the award without even discussing with FAB.

“On meeting the standards to get the title of NFA, how can NFC come to a conclusion whether or not we qualify to use the name which we had been using for the last eighteen years,” the officiating president stated. And where is the assurance that NFC will henceforth continue to organise the film awards, he questioned.

“If NFC keeps on doing what you want and with no consultation and acceptance of our views, then the whole idea of requesting NFC to organise the upcoming film awards is lost,” Nidup Dorji said in his letter.

The NFA was established in 2001 to recognise achievements by Bhutanese filmmakers and performers and to promote Bhutanese films. Since then, FAB has been organising the event as one of the significant events in the annual calendar of FAB as well as the film sector.