Meet the Team: Sonam Phuntsho
Sonam Phuntsho aka DG, a nickname he received when he was in 7th grade – when living in a place as small as Bhutan, nicknames created in primary school stick – is a member of the MyBhutan content team. Hailing from Thimphu, Sonam, will be taking on the role of videographer and researcher. We sat down with Sonam to ask him a few questions about his work, what inspires him and what he aims to accomplish with MyBhutan.
How did you start out in production?
When I graduated from India, I applied to a job as an associate producer at BBS (the only Bhutanese television station) in 2005. I didn’t have any experience and only applied at the pressing of my father; he was tired of me hanging around Thimphu without a job. Surprisingly, they hired me. I had always been fascinated with films, watching short documentaries and feature lengths, but had never believed I could be a storyteller.
Is that what you define yourself, as a storyteller?
Yes. With my job at Bhutan Broadcasting Service, I traveled a lot in Bhutan to some of the most remote areas, listening to stories, folk and actual. I was determined to share these stories. Because film is relatively new to Bhutan, we only received television in 1998, Bhutanese storytellers are still looking for their voice. We draw a lot from Bollywood but I believe that every culture has a way of telling stories. We are already proficient in written and oral stories we just need to discover what that means visually.
What stories most interest you?
I’m interested in stories about the youth. I collect these stories and share them with young people, to inspire them. Our country is young, the bulk is under 25, and I believe stories are the best way to discuss issues that impact the youth today. I also believe in telling meaningful stories be it folk or actual, Bhutan is full of stories that has deep moral values, stories that are very unique, at the same time stories about simple things in life that we tend to take it for granted. Young people in Bhutan are facing issues that are very different from the western world and I believe now is the time to document it before it disappears, before roads and electricity reaches these remote villages, before Bhutan changes.
What are some of those issues?
Rural-urban migration, unemployment, drug addiction and modernization. A lot of young people want to work and have desires that they aspire to but are unable to attain because they just aren’t available in Bhutan. I filmed a series on young athletes to encourage other students who were thinking of pursuing a career in sports to keep dreaming.
Do you have a favorite story that you have told?
Yes. It was about a young boy named, Tashi, who lived in Sakteng. Sakteng is in the northern and eastern reaches of Bhutan and can only be visited by foot. There, the people survive on yak and everything they do revolves around the yak. They use the yak for milk, warmth, labor and meat. The traditions are so closely tied to the care of the yak that children are raised for the purpose of one day taking on these responsibilities. Tashi was different. He believed, so much, that education was more important than the yak. He wanted to go to school, pursue a degree and not grow up to be a yak herder. It was the struggle that a lot of our young people face – tradition vs modernization. I was so in love with this story. I wanted it to inspire other children facing the same issues. I actually sent it to a children’s film festival in Munich and won the UNICEF award. I do not believe it won because of my filmmaking techniques, I was up against professionals who had been in the business for 30 years, it was the story that won the award.
I would have to disagree; your work is beautiful. What directors inspire you?
Thank you. Definitely Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His films, Birdman, the Revenant are beautifully shot, long takes of gorgeous scenery which, is the perfect style for Bhutan. We are living in a country that’s scenery is breathtaking.
Is the scenery of Bhutan what you wish to share with internationals in your films?
Yes, but its more than that. I wish to provide travelers, internationals with a deeper connection to Bhutan. I want them to feel the village, the people and to understand why we are who we are. Every rock has a story, every village name comes with a narrative, everything matters to us and I want people to understand that and hopefully learn something from our relationship with each other and the natural world. Mainly, I want them to fall in love with Bhutan.
We do, also! For photographers or videographers traveling to Bhutan do you have any tips?
Pack light. Light equipment is the key. Bhutan is tough trekking and sometimes the only transportation you have is a horse. You don’t want to have a lot of heavy equipment to lug around. Moments are fleeting, there may be a beautiful rainbow that is gone in an instance, you always have to have your camera on hand. (I think it’s an advise for documentary film makers who wants to film in Rural Bhutan but at the same time it will work for photographers too although I am not a professional Photographer)
Since you worked in television, what is your favorite television show?
Game of Thrones. Favorite character is Tyrion Lanister but I think I’m house Stark. Bhutanese are Starks, we live in the mountains, its cold and we are proud.
INTERVIEW BY SARAH CAHLAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREW STUDER