Our documentary is the story of the people of Bhutan, from the ordinary to extraordinary, from young to old, from hardworking farmers to the royal family. Every one of them has hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties, and knows the real problems that come with modernization. We’ll use this space to tell you about them.
The Fifth Dragon King of Bhutan — affectionately known as “K Five” — His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is head of the Wangchuck dynasty and the world’s youngest head of state. After completing his basic education in Bhutan, he studied at Phillips Academy (Andover), the Cushing Academy and Wheaton College in Massachusetts, and at Oxford University, where he completed the Foreign Service Program and an MPhil in Politics. The task facing him, now that Democracy has been formally adopted in his country, is unique and daunting. His Majesty has stated that the responsibility of his generation, the youth of Bhutan, is to ensure the success of democracy without sacrificing tradition and culture. Is this possible? Our HD footage of his coronation on the auspicious day of November 6th, his genuine interactions with his people and his compelling speech to his country are riveting.
Ugyen has traveled from his farm in Paro by bus to attend the coronation in Thimphu. He knows that things are changing in Bhutan, including the way that he tends to his land. Still, Ugyen seems optimistic about the future. He believes in his new King.
His Majesty, the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck appeared in the May 8, 2006 issue of Time and was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Shape Our World in 2006. His reign is marked by phenomenal development. Roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, basic services in agriculture and livestock now reach deep into the remote corners of the country. Bhutan has also made tremendous progress in the field of communications, hydroelectric power development, financial sector, environmental protection, and industrial and infrastructural development during the king’s reign. His ‘revolutionary’ Buddhist views help us to understand the bridge between the medieval past and the future.
Lhazin is a high school student living in Thimphu. Like many Bhutanese adolescents, Lhazin plans to attend college. While she is excited about the upcoming coronation, she is even more thrilled about the prospect of attending university overseas. She knows that Bhutan’s future is dependent upon the contributions of her generation.
The fourth king’s cousin, Dasho Paljor Dorji (or Benji, as he likes to be called) was instrumental in forming the first Bhutanese NGO—the “Royal Society for the Protection of Nature”. He candidly shares with us how he contributed to the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness and helped guide the devolution of power from absolute Monarchy to a constitutional Monarchy. He provides a compelling perspective as to why the Fourth King made such visionary decisions for his country and what challenges now face His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
Om Bar in Thimphu is adjacent to a disco and karaoke pool hall. Western influence has penetrated the nightlife in Thimphu. Unlike their parents who grew up in isolation from the outside world, the youth are connected to the world through technology. Media cannot be avoided and its impact is visible.
As the Entertainment Director for Centenary Celebrations, Dorji Wangchuck supervised most of the festivals and activities that preceded and follow the coronation. A childhood friend to His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Dorji has an entrepreneurial view about Bhutan’s future and the important role that his King must play to ensure balance between the old and the new.
The BBS broadcast the coronation to more than sixty thousand households that have a television set. Television was not introduced to Bhutan until 1999 and is still a government-controlled novelty. Our cameras followed Bhutanese Broadcasting Service crews and two producers throughout the Coronation ceremonies, to eavesdrop on their interviews and coverage.
Astrology plays a major role in all Bhutanese affairs. Days are deemed to be ‘auspicious’ or ‘inauspicious’ and the Bhutanese Observer prints detailed guidance, based upon the reader’s astrological sign and the portents of the day. The date and time of the King’s Coronation was divinely determined. Lopon Yanka is an Astrologer and head Professor at The Royal Astrology Institute. Through his eyes and insights, we begin to understand the great importance of astrology in the every day life of all Bhutanese citizens.
Bhutan Telecom is on the cutting edge of the cyber technology that will allow Bhutan to connect to the global community. Jichen Thinley is certain that the Internet will enhance Bhutan’s policy of Gross National Happiness. The Internet has become big business in Bhutan.
Prime Minister Yoser said Bhutan has pursued a unique development path guided by the former King’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness since the early 1970s. Gross National Happiness emphasized a balanced life that matched the material needs of the body, with the spiritual, psychological and emotional needs of the mind. The Royal Government structured its development program on four broad themes: sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, not growth; environmental conservation; promotion of culture; and good governance. Despite growing problems like alcoholism and drug abuse, Prime Minister Yoser is hopeful about Bhutan’s future.
The Honorary Consul of Bhutan to the United Kingdom and a former tutor to the Fourth King, Mr. Rutland believes that while Bhutan is indeed changing and confronting genuine issues, the optimism that prevails among the people will see the country through in the end.
Our cameras followed Chef Kelzang, Caterer, into the Royal Palace to partake in the makings of a coronation luncheon that will feed over 500 guests. Traditional Bhutanese fare of hot chili peppers and rice is combined with exotic treats from Thailand and India. The palace is bustling with preparation activities. Kelzang is responsible for every detail… and the decorations are even more elaborate than the food.
Our team has been invited to film the first-ever gathering of international scholars and great thinkers to examine the meaning of Gross National Happiness as it relates to education.
In December, 2009, The GNH Educational Conference will launch an unprecedented effort—the first in the world—to transform an entire national educational system along holistic lines.
Bhutan intends its new educational system to reflect fully and in every respect the principles, values, and approaches of its core ‘Gross National Happiness’ development philosophy, which seeks to integrate sustainable economic development with true environmental conservation, the wisdom and practices of its profound ancient culture, and good governance.
The country’s leaders want its youth to grow up as good citizens with a deep, abiding, and genuine care for the natural world and for others, and with the ability to see the nature of reality clearly and to cut through the dominant consumerist and materialist messaging to which they are exposed on television and elsewhere. The new education system is intended to integrate genuinely mind, heart, and action.
In 1997, when National Geographic Television sent me on a location scout to pre-interview Sherpas in Nepal who had climbed Mount Everest, I found the people and the beauty of the Himalayas astounding. As a westerner, living for a short time with a Sherpa family forever changed my life. Watching their gentle, peaceful interactions and their accepting open demeanor opened my eyes to Buddhism and the ways in which all life is interdependent.
It’s not surprising then, that I would ultimately be drawn to Bhutan and the country’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness, an idea rooted in a simple Buddhist message, that happiness lies in the middle path.
After years of trying and failing to both visit and film in Bhutan, I finally made it there in 2008. I felt privileged to be able to film the Grand Coronation of the 5th King, but more importantly, I felt that I was given an honor that I might share Bhutan’s perspective with a world that needs to hear its message that happiness is indeed possible.
Bhutan is a model for us. Now, more than ever, in these times of global economic turmoil and re-evaluation of social and financial values, Bhutan has much to share and say about the ways in which we can be happy.
My hope is that viewers will be inspired by Bhutan’s courage and, as I was in 1997, somehow transformed.
Enlightened Media LLC
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