Use of various religious masks cited as reason

Film: Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s fourth feature film Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait will not be screened in the country. The decision comes after the National Films Review Board (NFRB) and the Department of Culture (DoC) of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs reviewed the film.

The final decision comes after a month-long wait. While the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) couldn’t be contacted for comment, a letter from BICMA issued on January 10 to the Producer of Tsong Tsong Ma Production states that  the film cannot be screen in Bhutan “due to the various religious masks used by the characters in the film, which is not in keeping with our own tradition and culture”.

The letter states that the film was submitted for further review since various religious masks (lhatshog zhebab) were used by the characters of the film. NFRB reviewed the film on December 10, last year and referred it for further review to DoC the next day. NFRB is an independent board instituted by BICMA with members from different stakeholders.

The final decision comes after BICMA issued a clarification on December 23 last year, stating that the film was not barred from screening but is being reviewed. The clarification letter came after BBS ran a story stating that the film was barred from screening on December 21 last year.

Producer of the film, Pawo Choyning Dorji, said he is disappointed because at the end of the day, Hema Hema is the first Bhutanese film that has attained recognition on many notable international stages.

“A Bhutanese film made entirely by a Bhutanese cast and crew that has gone on to screen at many international festivals has attained something remarkable. There are so many obvious things going on in the country that are not in line with our tradition and culture, and yet these concerned authorities are turning a blind eye to such issues,” Pawo Choyning Dorji said.

The producers will not appeal the decision. “There is no need for us to appeal the decision because we can’t do anything about it,” he said.

“I can’t be more proud of my team for what we have achieved. For BICMA to block us on these reasons it is sad not just for the team but a sad situation for art and creativity in the country,” Pawo Choyning Dorji said.

“Rinpoche is a champion of Bhutanese culture, tradition and spirituality. We are responsible citizens and we will stick with whatever our government institutions decide for us,” he added.

The film was awarded with a special mention by an international jury for being placed second at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year.

The Toronto festival gets over 7,000 applications from around the world, out of which 250 are selected. From the 250 films, only 12 films are shortlisted for the Toronto Platform Prize. Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait was the only Asian film to be shortlisted.

Thinley Zangmo