Until the first Bhutanese film ‘Gasa Lamai Singye’ (1995), Bhutanese largely relied on films from the neighbouring countries for entertainment.
Bhutan Film Association (BFA) was founded with a vision to preserve and promote the film industry in the country.
On 9th September 1999, eleven filmmakers founded BFA to support and standardise the quality of films produced by Bhutanese filmmakers and to inspire younger generations to pursue their passion in filmmaking.
Mila Tobgay, President of BFA, recalls his passion for acting. “Those days we only had theatricals and I acted in the role of the saint Milarepa. That’s how I got my name. I was just Tobgay before. The hall in Yangchenphu Higher Secondary School was packed for about twenty one days.”
He added: “Films are like ambassadors to the outside world. They represent Bhutanese culture, tradition and customs.”
Executive Director of BFA, Yeshi Dorji, said that help comes in the form of short training and courses and also equipment supply like camera.
The association faces several challenges today, mainly lack of funds. BFA often seeks funds from international donor agencies and apply proposals for fund from organisations and government. BFA facilitates training and workshops for actors and filmmakers.
Yeshi Dorji said that BFA is sustained largely through collection of annual membership fees. “We encourage them to be a member because we are Mutual Benefit Organisation (MBO). We also provide opportunities to members of BFA when training and workshops are conducted. Based on their performance, voluntary work and participation, we recommend nominees to film awards committee. There are over 700 members today. We raise the fund through royalties per project.”
In 2016 and 2017, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs funded two million for each year for the conduct of National Film Awards. Prior to this, BFA only had been getting just about a million per year.
He said that some amount is also allocated for short films and documentary awards. Prime minister recently initiated awards for three best films by providing a million each, which would boost filmmakers and actors to perform well.
Between 2011 and 2015, ten different training and workshops were conducted through Danida project. Participants were trained on direction, cinematography, production, make up, producing and acting, among others.
Yeshi Dorji said that through His Majesty’s Secretariat, two studies were conducted which studied the challenges and problems concerning the industry.
A Film Council was proposed which would be dedicated to improving the film industry. The Council is yet to be ratified which would boost the entertainment sector.
“Once this is established we hope that all development aspects such as capacity building, training and film promotions, marketing, and professional development will be taken care.”
For now the association has to work from the grassroots to the policy level. “We lack capacity training. Only a few have been trained professionally or studied in film institutions,” said Yeshi Dorji.
Tandin Bidha, a popular actress in the industry today, said that film industry was not viewed as an ideal place for stable professional career. “Most parents didn’t want their children acting but in my case it was different as my mother acted in theatricals.”
She said that today, there are many trained directors, actors who are exposed to diverse experiences. Every year, improved equipment assist filmmaking and production.
Film making as a creative art has been at dormant stage. “It’s not that our filmmakers are not capable, they can develop, but in terms of going international and in technical aspects, we are not able to meet their level and compete,” said Mila Tobgay.
Yeshi Dorji said that the film market has not been good because of small population and also because of lack of facilities such as studios and theatres. In remote places and towns other than Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Haa, there are problems of screening movies.
Filmmakers, he said, have to rely on school multi-purpose halls. There are also setbacks such as films getting leaked before screening as there are no firm copyright policies.
Unite everyone working in the film industry under one umbrella to become one voice and one force and lobby for the development of the film industry.
Represent the interest of the Bhutanese film industry in the national and inter national platforms and forums.
Protect and promote the interest of every form of film and every profession of the film industry.
Assist in the implementation of the national film policy to foster the growth and development of the film industry as envisioned by the policy.
Liaise with relevant entities and donor agencies in developing the film industry.
Participate in the national and international meetings, workshops, seminars, and media interviews and represent the interest of the Bhutanese film industry.
Promote all the forms of film through trainings, production funds, festivals, awards, and other support systems in collaboration with other institutions.
Promote all the filmmaking professions through trainings and studies in collaboration with other institutions and encourage for better film production.
Protect all the professions of the film industry through comprehensive rules and regulations.
Assist in the implementation of the national film policy to foster the growth and development of the film industry as envisioned by the policy
Advocate for better films policies and dynamic regulations.