The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan appears and operates much as it did one hundred years ago. But the unavoidable seeds of change are beginning to blossom. Bhutan: Change Comes to the Himalayan Happy Kingdom is a complex examination of the crossroads between honoring the past and embracing the future.
The villagers live by strongly-held traditions. They tend to their yaks, milk their cows and use their land and limited resources to provide for their families the best they can. But they're becoming increasingly dependent upon the industrialized villages that surround them.
They travel to these distant villages to sell weaves of fabric and other goods. They're struggling in their efforts to switch to organic farming as a means of sustenance and commerce. The men trek great distances in perilous terrain in search of medicinal mushrooms. Once a vibrant source of income, these mushrooms are now in limited supply thanks in part to the ravages of climate change.
Behind the façade of old tradition, there are signs of modernity. They may cook their meals on an open fire, but the electricity that powers their homes is generated by solar panels.
They want better lives for their children. One mother weeps as she sends her six-year old boy to study at a distant monastery. The parents want their children to transcend the hard-fought fate they've long endured.
Director Irja von Bernstorff knows the region and its people intimately. Since 2013, she's taken residence there with her husband and daughter. Her film captures both the serenities and harsh realities of the villagers' daily lives. We're made to feel the struggles of living in poverty in contrast to the richness of the awe-inspiring natural world that surrounds them. She follows each generation of villager - from the young boy who goes off to school to the young adult who breaks his back in search of food to the 73-year old who fights to stay relevant in a changing landscape.
The film is indeed a kind-hearted and immaculately observed portrait of a people in transition.