#SheReviews Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

May 31, 2022

Consider visiting one of the most remote villages in the world where members of the cast have never seen a move before, where the world’s most remote school is surrounded by breathtaking infinite beauty. Lunana-A Yak in the Classroom is one beautiful heart-warming movie you cannot help but embrace and I highly recommend it.   

How many people have been to the Kingdom of Bhutan? I haven’t but want to, particularly after seeing this movie. Filmed around the spectacular Eastern Himalayas close to Nepal and Bangladesh, Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy with Vajrayana Buddhism as the state religion. 

I was transported back in time to the simple basic things in life, a reminder to us all that we don’t need much to be happy.  So true when the director Pawo Choyning Dorji said, what we so desperately seek in the outer material world, actually always exists within us, and that happiness is not really a destination but the journey.

It was a challenge for the crew producing this film, they were fully dependent on solar-charged batteries. Local highlanders, many of whom had never seen the world outside their isolated village, were cast in many of the film’s leading roles and they were magnificent.  

The Story

Nominated for “Best International Feature” at 2022 Academy Awards. Oscar nominated for Best International Feature, Pawo Choyning Dorji directs a winning drama for the whole family.

Ugyen (Sherab Dorji, in his feature debut) is a Bhutanese trainee teacher in modern Bhutan who harbours dreams of moving to Australia to become a singer and shirks his duties because of this. 

When his superiors learn of his plan to cut short his studies, as a reprimand, his superiors send him to the most remote school in the world, in a village settlement of 56 people called Lunana, that sits along the glaciers of the Himalayas, to complete his service. Lunana, literally means the dark valley; a valley so far and distant that the light doesn’t even reach it.

On arrival the young arrogant Ugyen finds himself exiled from his modern comforts after an arduous eight-day trek just to get there. With no electricity, no textbooks, and not even a blackboard (the toilet paper saga reminded me of our Covid lockdown days in Australia), he plans to immediately return home, even though the poor humble villagers extend a warm welcome to their new teacher. His biggest surprise was a yak residing in the classroom. 

But he is not all heartless as Ugyen begins to learn of the hardship in the lives of the beautiful children he teaches, and begins to be transformed through the amazing spiritual strength of the villagers

Director and writer, Pawo Choyning Dorji, also a photographer and filmmaker from the Kingdom of Bhutan, wanted to tell a story where Ugyen, the young protagonist of the story wishes to go in search of his happiness. Yet reluctantly he ends up in a world that is unlike the modern world in every aspect. 

Lunana-A Yak in the Classroom is pure, symbolic, and authentic. About tradition, the effects of global warming, a place where Yaks are revered, and every teacher must be treated respectfully because they can touch our futures.

The story sends a powerful message about the search for happiness and a sense of belonging. Our hopes and dreams that connect humanity, even in such a unique world, are the same.

Cast & Crew (for the cast it was their first screen debut)  


Sherab Dorji,  ,Ugyen Norbu,  Lhendup Kelden Lhamo Gurung,  Pema Zam

Sherab Dorji (Ugyen) dropped out of school to pursue a career in music. He currently works for M-Studio, a record label based in Thimphu, Bhutan. Prior to coming on board Sherab, just like the character he plays in the movie was contemplating migrating to Australia to pursue his musical dreams. 

Ugyen Norbu Lhendup (Michen) is currently an unemployed civil engineer who is a music and acting enthusiast. He had originally auditioned for the role of Ugyen. Pawo Choyning Dorji was so impressed with his performance that he created the character of Michen specifically for him.  

Kelden Lhamo Gurung (Saldon) is a second year college student at the Royal Thimphu College. She is also a part of the M-Studio, and has produced numerous songs for the Bhutanese record label. Kelden took a year off from college to work on the film.  

Pem Zam (Pem Zam) is 9 years old and is a student of the Lunana Primary School. Just like the character she plays in the movie, Pem Zam comes from a broken family and is currently living with her grandmother. Having never left her remote village, she has never experienced electricity or the internet. She dreams of one day going beyond the mountains of Lunana and riding in a car for the first time. 


Producers: Pawo Choyning Dorji, Steven Xiang, Stephanie Lai & Jia Honglin

Pawo Choyning Dorji (Director & Writer) is a writer, photographer and filmmaker from the Kingdom of Bhutan. In 2016 he produced the critically acclaimed Bhutanese feature Hema Hema: Sing me a song while I wait. The film had its world premiere at the 69th Festival del film Locarno and went on to win the Special Mention at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is his Directorial debut.

Stephanie Lai (Producer) studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She has been an actress for the Taiwan based theatre group Performance Workshop for the past 15 years. 

Jigme Tenzing (Director of Photography) is a cinematographer based in Bhutan. His early career began in New York where he worked on various productions.  Jigme has worked in Bhutan, Nepal, India and the US where he’s lensed several award-winning independent and commercial features.

Tshering Dorji & Li Yijing (Associate Producers), Tshering is a filmmaker and theatre producer based in Thimphu, Bhutan. Tshering was the lead actor for Khyentse Norbu’s Hema Hema: Sing ma song while I wait (2016). He is an animal activist.

Lunana- A Yak in the Classroom allowed me an ingratiating little getaway for a while.

Find what you seek, in a place you never expected

In select cinemas nationally 2 June

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