Tashi Gyeltshen is a writer/director/producer from Thimphu, Bhutan. He wanted to become a poet, but instead worked as a journalist, before teaching himself to be a filmmaker. He wrote and directed his first short film, Girl with a Red Sky (2008), followed by A Forgotten Story (2010). His third short, The Red Door (2014), premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2014. He won the Best Screenplay prize at the Bhutan National Film Awards 2009. His debut feature, The Red Phallus (2018), won a production grant award at Open Doors Hub at Locarno Festival 2016 and was a part of the WIP Lab at Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum 2017. The film won the FIPRESCI Award at Busan International Film Festival 2018, was nominated for the Crystal Bear Generation 14plus – Best Feature Film prize at Berlin International Film Festival 2019, and played at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019, Fribourg International Film Festival 2019, and Kerala International Film Festival 2018, among others. He also earned his first Asia Pacific Screen Award nomination for Best Youth Feature Film 2019 for The Red Phallus (2018). Tashi’s second feature, A River in the Mirror, is in the pre-production phase.
Icefall Productions was established in 2007 by Ram Krishna Pokharel, a Kathmandu based producer. Icefall has produced several shorts, features and documentaries, has collaborated with local and international producers, and has worked with emerging filmmakers from South Asia, including Abinash Bikram Shah (Nepal), Niranjan Raj Bhetwal (Nepal), Suman Sen (India), and Tashi Gyeltshen (Bhutan), among others.
STUDIO 108 is based in Thimphu, Bhutan and was started by Tashi Gyeltshen, the writer, director and producer of feature The Red Phallus (2018). STUDIO 108 was founded in 2016 with the vision to foster creativity, individual voices and expression. The production house is committed to promoting virtuosity and innovation, and bringing together different distinctive individuals to build upon the rich and unique stories that abound in this Himalayan Kingdom.
Icefall Productions and STUDIO 108 successfully collaborated on Tashi Gyeltshen’s first feature, The Red Phallus (2018), which won the production grant award at Open Doors Hub, Locarno Festival 2016. The film also won the FIPRESCI Award at Busan International Film Festival 2018 and was nominated for the Crystal Bear Generation 14plus ? Best Feature Film prize at Berlin International Film Festival 2019. A River in the Mirror will be our second collaboration.
In the far-removed highlands of northern Bhutan, at 4500 meters a tree is a dream, its leaves made of red brocades. A lake has religious treasures hidden underneath, which according to prophecy, a Terton (treasure hunter in Buddhist tradition) will unearth in the future. A Yeti, an Abominable Snowman, yearns to exist and be seen. In this fantastically secluded place lives a 10-year-old boy, named Sangay (meaning enlightened one), an orphan yak-herder, and his lame 81-year-old grandmother, who is dying. They have no one except each other. Yet, one is a beginning and the other an end, and together, they form their circle of existence. They have never seen the outside world. But, between them, they have a past for which they abhor one another. Then, there is Sangay’s yak-herder friend - another 10-year-old boy who is going blind; a handsome Buddhist monk undergoing three years, three months, and three days of spiritual retreat; and a dubious, drunk astrologer - nobody knows where he came from or where he is going. And it’s Autumn. Yaks begin to disappear mysteriously. Grandmother is on her deathbed. Sangay leaves the mountains, for the first time, in search of the “nectar of immortality”; for he wants to keep her alive… as revenge, perhaps.
A prince named Siddhartha attained enlightenment, 2500 years back, and became Gautama Buddha. He gave us Buddhism. He said that life is an illusion. Stress and suffering come from believing in that illusion. I make films, fundamentally, as an attempt to imbue purpose and meaning into my own selfish, individualized time and space; to make sense of my life, as cliched as it may sound. But then, I realize I am creating an illusion (which I think film is) to make sense of another illusion. It’s like searching for an onion by peeling the onion. I was born and live in a country that takes fanatical pride in calling itself a Buddhist nation. Buddhism is a way of life here in Bhutan. I am not a religious person yet that’s the only way of life I know. A River in the Mirror is an attempt to explore my own Buddhist inner life through the modern cultural act of making a film. I took the title and the philosophical essence of the film from this little poem of mine. “There′s a river in the mirror, weeping silently, afraid?it might flow out.” I live my “illusion” in constant fear and stress, always searching and yearning for something unknowable and most probably I’ll never attain it. Then, one day the mirror will break and I’ll realize there was nothing in there to flow out in the first place. I guess, till then, I hope to weep out films silently.