In our increasingly mechanized and automated world that frowns on superstition and mysticism, this story shows how vitally relevant our disappearing ancient wisdom and traditional beliefs still are. In particular, the film focuses on the age-old Himalayan celebration of feminine energy as the most supreme aspect of being. Crucial to our own volatile era, this energy is personified in tantric Buddhism by dakinis who may appear as living beings with almost supernatural powers to give or take away our life force and provide direction, guidance or ruin to our lives.
This story is about Tenzin – a modern young Tibetan entrepreneur, utterly sceptical of such “irrational” beliefs, who is driven to create the best coffee shop in Nepal. Reluctantly, Tenzin also follows his old mother’s deepest wish that he learn a traditional but dying Tibetan song art in which she had excelled. While obsessively pursuing his ambition, Tenzin is suddenly tormented by peculiar and recurring dreams and images that friends and seers tell him signal his imminent death.
Realized sages and ancient texts advise that only finding a dakini can save his life or else he will die in seven days. Tenzin disparages both the prediction and the advice as foolish superstition. But no matter how sceptical we are, the reality of death – and especially our own – makes us paranoid and panicky. And so, Tenzin soon embarks on a desperate search for this “very special woman” that brings him face to face with his own neurosis and attachments and with the speed, frenzy, distraction and rational limitations of modern life.
is an attractive, 30-year-old Tibetan entrepreneur – driven, uptight, obsessive and impatient – who has just sunk all his money into a fancy, European-style coffee shop in Kathmandu, that he’s determined will serve the best coffee in Nepal. At the same time, Tenzin’s loyalty to his mother forces him to keep one foot in the traditional world, as he unwillingly learns a traditional music form in danger of extinction.
Though he tries to keep his mind on his new coffee shop, Tenzin is haunted by frightening dreams and hallucinations that a sage tells him portend his imminent death. He considers himself a “modern” man, utterly skeptical, so he first dismisses the omens as baseless superstition. But the persistent images engender a fear and desperation that plunge Tenzin both into the vortex of his own neuroses and into the mysteries of a dying ancient world.
is Tenzin’s best friend, about 35, overweight and messy, but way more caring, open-minded and respectful of the traditional world than Tenzin. Jakpa loves cooking, wears the same old shirt far too long, and has a secret crush on Kunsel, but he is grounded and reliable, and is truly present for his friends. He doesn’t understand Tenzin’s obsession with money and worldly ambition, and has far greater faith in the monks and sages whose knowledge and insight provide the clues to Tenzin’s life and death.
is a sparkling, attractive, silver-throated Tibetan-Nepalese singer in her mid-twenties with a secretive double life and extraordinary link to her people’s past of which she herself is unaware. Constantly distracted and texting on her phone, Kunsel can switch in an instant from a sloppy Tibetan chuba to the snazziest western dresses. She is both self-absorbed and yet sharp, intelligent, alluring, spontaneous and deeply devoted to her ailing father whose deepest wish is to preserve a precious cultural tradition in danger of extinction.
with his fancy headphones, iPad and boots, affinity for good coffee and music, and dry, quirky and playful humour, shows you don’t have to be stodgy and puritanical to be a dedicated and authentic spiritual practitioner. With deep devotion to the ageless wisdom tradition he has inherited, the monk consults ancient texts that begin to unravel the secrets of the feminine energy that is at the core of the Himalayan heritage.
Master of the Lefthand Lineage
in his late 60s, is a genuine spiritual master with a wisdom inherited from ancient times so profound and unfathomable that it cannot be communicated to ordinary beings in conventional language. This sage has a gruff, grumpy and utterly unconventional exterior that does not tolerate the blindness, stupidity, airs and deception of the ego-driven world around him. But he is in direct touch with a mystical inner reality that is Tenzin’s only hope for life.
Style + mood
Transporting audiences to a profound, mystical, and yet very real and accessible dimension of life with which our modern world is rapidly losing touch
Exploring the last residues of ancient Buddhist
Celebrating the divine feminine energy
Still contemplative shots
Capturing the beauty and spirituality of Nepal
Dynamic handheld camera work
Capturing everyday life through the eyes of a character who is panicked and at the end of his rope
In a world that is becoming increasingly mechanized and automated, a world that is on the verge of creating artificial intelligence, and a world in which superstition is frowned on, I try in this film to explore some of the last genuine residues of Tibetan mysticism.
With rare exceptions like the character of Master of the Left Hand Lineage in this film, who is based on an exceptional living master, these traditional beliefs and ways of behaving and looking at the world are increasingly rare even among Tibetans, and today carry little if any weight.
And yet, I believe this ancient wisdom, which reflects the Buddhist view of reality, has something vital to offer our modern world. Especially I see its age-old respect for and celebration of feminine energy as absolutely crucial in these volatile times, and so I intend this film to express some of the ways that energy has traditionally been summoned.
This and some of the other themes in this film are these days conveyed only to very, very few exceptional adepts, and I felt the times now demand that they be subtly communicated to a wider audience. That’s what this story tries to do.
This is also why Nepal is an ideal setting for this film. Besides the mountains and trekking for which it is popularly known, Nepal is a very spiritual and magical place, and I want to capture that quality both through the eyes of local inhabitants and in the way the film is shot.
For example, I will give the audience plenty of time for contemplation, so images may not move fast and may even stand still for a period. As well, I want to catch the magical qualities of life through the eyes of a character who is really panicked, which we’ll do by using hand-held cameras.
It’s precisely because this film will evoke contemplation that the Director of Photography will be Mark Lee Ping Bing, for whose sensitivity, contemplative style, and amazing capacity to capture images I have always had the highest respect.
I intend to use only non-professional actors, not only because – unlike in the west – there are few trained actors in Nepal, but also because the characters I am trying to portray have to be really genuine. For example, one of the characters – the spiritual master I mentioned above – will be portrayed by an actual highly respected spiritual master whose qualities and demeanour a hundred thousand trained actors could not fathom let alone convey.
Sadly, these days, we see everything from fashion and consumer goods to storytelling, books and films increasingly produced according to set formulae that are proven to “sell the product.” Though few films today escape the enormous influence of the Hollywood and Bollywood formulae, I want to explore in this film a distinctive Himalayan way of expression and storytelling that is true to this region’s culture, tradition and wisdom.
In these various ways I hope this film will transport audiences to a profound, mystical, and yet very real and accessible dimension of life with which our modern world is sadly and rapidly losing touch.
Writer + director
Born in 1961 in Bhutan, has written and directed several award-winning feature films, receiving accolades and honours at numerous prestigious international film festivals.
His first film The Cup (1999) became an international sensation after its premiere screening at the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Director’s Fortnight. It went on to win critical acclaim and official selections at major festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Hong Kong, London and Moscow. It won awards at four international festivals, including an International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award at Busan and an audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Norbu’s second film, Travellers & Magicians (2003), was the first full-length feature film shot in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. It premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and went on to the Toronto, Busan, Golden Horse (Taipei), Sao Paulo, London, Sydney, Moscow and other international film festivals, winning three awards.
His third feature film Vara: A Blessing (2013), based on a short story by Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay and filmed in Sri Lanka, attracted top international collaborators including award-winning cinematographer Bradford Young and acclaimed editor William Chang, and starred Indian ingenue, Shahana Goswami.
Vara premiered as the Opening Film at the Busan International Film Festival and went on to screen at several film festivals world-wide including the BFI London Film Festival, the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, and the Tribeca International Film Festival, where it had its North American Premiere and won the Best Feature Film award at the Tribeca Online Film Festival.
Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (2016), the director's fourth feature film, is probably his most personal to date. Shot in remote parts of Bhutan on a very low budget, the film premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and was screened at the Toronto, Busan, Singapore, and Malaysian International Film Festivals, and at the London BFI, JIO MAMI (Mumbai), Osaka Asian, and Taipei Golden Horse Film Festivals.
The film won the audience choice award at the 2016 Golden Global Awards at the Malaysian International Film Festival and ‘Honourable Mention’ at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival Platforms Prize.
Known in the Buddhist world as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Norbu brings to his films a profound and subtle mastery and understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practice. He is an internationally renowned Buddhist teacher, best-selling author of several books, founder of several major philanthropic organizations, and head of monasteries and institutes of Buddhist Studies in Tibet, India and Bhutan.
Director of Photography
Mark Lee Ping-bing
is a celebrated and renowned Taiwanese cinematographer with over 90 films to his credits and is the recipient of more than 20 international awards. He began his film career in 1977 and in 1985 started his prolific collaboration with Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. Known best for his use of natural lighting and graceful camera movement, Lee received the Grand Technical Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 for In the Mood for Love. He also won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016 for Crosscurrent.
A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Lee was honoured with nominations by the American Society of Cinematographers for its 2014 First Annual Spotlight Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the 2012 film Renoir and by the French Academy of Cinema Arts for a Cesar Award for Best Cinematography in 2014 also for the film Renoir.