Toronto, Sep 10 : The arrival of the internet in Bhutan and its impact on a society dominated by Buddhist monks hesitant to embrace technology is the theme of a new documentary film premiered at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Monday night.
'Sing Me a Song' directed by French documentary filmmaker Thomas Balmes, which had its world premiere in the TIFF Docs section of the festival, deals with the transformation of a country that was one of the last in the world to open itself to the internet. Shot in the remote village of Laya and capital Thimphu, 'Sing Me a Song' follows a 17-year-old monk, who was initially sceptical about the effect of technology on the people of his country set in the mountainous Himalayan region. A France-Germany-Switzerland co-production, the film documents the journey of the young monk as he embraces technology.
Peyangki, the young monk, was worried as a seven-year-old when electricity first came to his village in 2009. He believed that if electricity arrived, the houses in his village would catch fire. Ten years later when Peyangki received his first mobile phone, his initial misgivings about technology gives ways to profound engagement.
Bhutan was one of the last countries in the world to embrace technology when the king allowed the internet in 1999, more than a decade after India. The king also allowed the use of television in the same year. With the mobile phones arriving later, the impact of technology in the kingdom was rapid.
As a 17-year-old monk with a mobile phone, Peyangki wakes up everyday in his monastery to the alarm of his smartphone. The instrument is his constant tool for every minute of the day, even during prayers. Then one day, he meets a young girl, named Ugyen, on WeChat. Ugyen, who lives in Thimphu, and Peyangki, who is a resident of the farway Laya village, become friends on the internet and start a long distance relationship. His life undergoes a transformation just as the internet did to Bhutan.
"Though the technology arrived late in Bhutan, the country adapted it quickly," says Balmes, whose earlier documentaries include 'Bosnia Hotel' (1996) and 'Happiness' (2014), his first film on Bhutan and its tryst with technology. Balmes first met Peyangki when he went to Bhutan in 2009 to shoot 'Happiness'. "I met him in the Laya village and immediately knew he would be my character," says Balmes.
After 'Happiness', which tells the story of a seven-year-old Peyangki praying for a television set to come to his village, was released in 2014, the filmmaker returned to Bhutan five years later to start shooting for 'Sing Me a Song' and continue his tale of the Himalayan kingdom's experiments with technology.
"With beautiful cinematography, Balmes marshalls nuance, humour, and humanity," says Thom Powers, the TIFF Docs programmer. "To witness the effects of technology in a country that kept it at bay for so long gives us a fresh lens to reflect on what it means to our own lives," adds Powers.
Peyangki was present at the world premiere of 'Sing Me a Song' in Toronto along with Balmes. "We can get a lot of knowledge with the use of a mobile phone," the young monk told the festival audience. "I make videos on the mobile phone when I travel," added the monk, who arrived in Delhi last week from Bhutan for taking a flight to Toronto for the world premiere of 'Sing Me a Song'. (UNI)