The Canberra Short Film Festival (CSFF) is in its 22nd year and it is the one of Australia’s oldest and best film competitions. The annual festival runs over 5 days at various locations across Canberra. Kicking off on Wednesday the 13th of September, the opening night was hosted at Dendy Cinema, a premium cinema in the heart of Canberra’s central business district.

The festival attracts audience from all over Australia and is known for selling out every session. The festival is a popular platform for talents from within Australia as well as from outside. Audiences are treated to a series of the best of short cinemas from all over the world through a variety of categories, in any genre, style and length of up to 20 minutes.

The Yak Herder’s Son, a 20-minute documentary by Tenzin Phuntsho, a Bhutanese living in Canberra, was one of the films selected for screening at the festival and it was the first film to be screened on the opening night. As soon as the lights went out and the projector system started beaming Tenzin’s work, a pin drop silence fell upon the audience. At the end of it, a thunderous applause electrified the air in admiration for his unique work. Even the competitors who were present among the audience felt a sneaking admiration.

An independent judging panel selected by the CSFF took on the hard job of selecting the best out of the best. The judges wanted to see something beautiful, or strange, or scary, or happy. They wanted the audiences to be affected by the films in the biggest way possible. Tenzin’s film just did all of that in a powerful way. The judges loved his film and his work was adjudged the Best Film.

The film has several qualities that have won the judges’ hearts.

Tenzin’s work is a compelling story about human-wildlife conflict told through a montage of refreshing scenes segueing beautifully. The film treats the audience to an exhilarating view of the breathtaking flora and fauna of Bhutan through a very captivating perspective about an important topic.

The 20-minute documentary is more than just a story about Bhutan. It captures a challenge that is world wide about balancing the needs of humans with the rights of other species. The film allows the audience to catch a glimpse of the life of Bhutan’s nomadic yak herders through the intimate perspective that Tenzin uniquely captures. The film also draws its life from Tenzin’s likeable manner and his bright sense of humour making the film very engaging. The deftness with which he passionately handles the complex subject of finding a balance between traditional lifestyles of nomads and conservation is riveting.

Although the film was produced on a very low budget, the cinematography is beautiful and the use of trigger cameras that capture the shots of snow leopards is really awesome. Veteran music director Tsheten Dorji helped Tenzin with post-production editing and the result is reflective of his years of rich experience in both the sound and visual aspects of the art of film-making.

The Yak Herder’s Son’s success is emblematic of Bhutan’s success in many ways. It accentuates the great strides Bhutan has made in environmental conservation, especially in the way it has been able to strike a delicate balance between sustainable development and conservation, and conservation and traditional way of life. Just when someone down under was reading Bhutan’s conservation achievements like an environmentalist’s utopia, the documentary reveals a pleasing paradox that is not only real but one that can only be found in Bhutan.

Contributed by  Dorji Tshering,