National broadcaster BBS does not pay penalty to BICMA for airing news on Hema Hema by January 19 deadline 

Film: Following the ban on Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait, its production house, Tshong Tshong Ma Productions, submitted a letter on January 19 to the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) stating that the agency has not provided a valid reason for barring the film.

The letter states that the production house was not able to find any section or clause that states that a film can be denied certification for screening on the grounds of “not keeping with Bhutanese tradition and culture”.

According to the BICM (Bhutan Information, Communications and Media) Act section 108 there are six criteria for which a film can be barred from being screened such it being detrimental to the sovereignty, security and integrity of the country, or if it is likely to violate the rights and freedom of others, among others.

“The National Films Review Board (NFRB) has not listed any of the violations, yet the film is not being certified to screen in the country,” states the letter.

Section 105 (1) of the Act also states that the producer of every film, which is intended for public exhibition by any mode of ICT or media within Bhutan, shall submit the film for examination by the authority.

The section indicates that the film requires to be examined by authorities only if the film will be exhibited for the public within Bhutan. “We did not break any rules and regulations by submitting the film to foreign film festivals without the certification from BICMA,” states the letter.

“Yet, we have been quoted numerous times in the media by the Department of Culture and by senior elected government officials to have done otherwise. Being accused of disrespecting the country’s rules and regulations is a serious allegation, and it is unfortunate that the media has now recorded this against our names,” the production house says.

It is pointed out in the letter that BICMA’s Rules Governing Examination and Certification of Film, chapter 5.1 Section (b), which states that the authority shall inform the applicant of its decision as soon as and in any case no later than seven working days from the date of the examination of the film.

“Hema Hema’s examination took place on December 10 last year and the decision was shared with us on January 10, this year. The decision was 22 working days late. We do believe this lapse in duty cannot be overlooked as even BICMA is governed by rules and regulations just as we are. We sincerely hope our expectation is not misplaced,” states the letter.

On January 10, BICMA issued a letter to the production house stating that the film will not be screened in the country “due to the various religious masks used by the characters in the film, which is not in keeping with our own tradition and culture”.

BICMA’s officials said that BICMA takes the responsibility of the decision but the decision is not based on the interest of BICMA alone.

“We are only following the rules and regulations, and people should respect that. Further, there is a miscommunication that BICMA already saw the script. When a film registers for an examination with BICMA, they need to submit a synopsis of the film and not the entire script,” a BICMA official said. “The synopsis of the film reflected that there will be use of masks but they didn’t specify what kind of masks. There are thousands of masks.”

Meanwhile, Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) sent a response letter to BICMA on January 19 stating that they will not be paying the fines imposed by BICMA and shall seek intervention of an independent authority for arbitration if the issue is not resolved at this juncture.

BICMA imposed a fine of Nu 224,625 after BBS aired the story on December 21, last year, saying that the film is barred from being screened in the country.

BICMA directed BBS to settle the penalties imposed on or before January 19 and if they fail, BICMA would take further actions.

BICMA officials chose not to comment on the issue.

Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait is Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s fourth feature film.

An international jury at the Toronto International Film Festival awarded the film with a special mention in September last year. The film also premiered at the Festival del film Locarno in Switzerland, London BFI Film Festival in the UK and Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

The film was also on its way to submit for a nomination for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film this year before BICMA barred screening in the country, which was one of the criteria for the film to qualify to submit for the nomination.

Thinley Zangmo