Film: Lunana – A Yak in the Classroom




This delightful film from Bhutan, set in the magnificent Himalayan mountains, is the country’s first film ever to score an Oscar nomination for best international feature.

It’s a simple tale of a disillusioned young teacher who dreams of becoming a pop singer in Australia but is posted to the tiny village of Lunana in Bhutan’s far north.

At home in the city Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) spends most of his time listening to music on his earphones or talking on his mobile phone.

Lunana, population 56, has only solar power (intermittent), no internet reception and no access road. Getting there involves a demanding eight-day hike, all uphill.

Ugyen is amazed when most of the villagers trek two hours down the mountain to welcome him. “They are so honoured that you have come to teach them,” he is told.

The school is bare, with no equipment, no teaching materials. But the children are so eager to learn, so respectful, that he can’t help responding to their enthusiasm. One child tells him that he too wants to be a teacher – because “a teacher touches the future”.



The class captain is a nine-year-old charmer called Pem Zam – who is actually one of the villagers, playing herself. Most of the other characters in the film are local people without any acting experience.

Bhutan, with 800,000 people, is the country which measures national productivity with a “gross happiness index”.

The Lunana villagers, mainly yak herders, have few possessions but they share what they have.

Ugyen, like many young Bhutanese caught up in a traditional world, tries to be modern by following western music and culture.

In Lunana he is intrigued by a local woman Saldon (Kelden Lhamo Gurung), a yak herder who goes to the mountain every evening to sing a beautiful Bhutanese song as a type of offering.

Though he has been teaching western ditties in his classroom, he becomes determined to learn Saldon’s song so he can take it with him when he leaves.

That moment comes only too soon: Ugyen has become increasingly absorbed into life in Lunana when suddenly he is told he must leave immediately or be trapped by the winter snows.



Writer/director Pawo Choyning Dorji, the son of a Bhutanese diplomat, went to college in the United States and understands well the tug between traditional values and modern life.

Filming in Lunana was challenging. The team had to carry their solar batteries up the mountain, together with rations for the crew, in a caravan of more than 75 mules.

They were never sure if the solar batteries would hold enough power to last the distance.

Despite the problems, Dorji has produced a heartfelt fable with universal values, one which has captivated audiences and critics alike.

An added bonus is the spectacular Bhutan landscape captured by cinematographer Jigme Tenzing.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom runs from Monday, December 19 to Saturday, December 24 at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium.


Watch the trailer…