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Storytelling in Bhutanese cinema: Research context and case study of a film in development

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Screenwriter and director Sue Clayton and academic Shohini Chaudhuri consider storytelling structures in Bhutan, a country that has, until recently, been relatively culturally isolated but is now moving towards entering the global stage. As in the rest of South Asia, the dominant cinematic model in Bhutan is that of Bollywood, yet Buddhism, the oral tradition and supernatural beliefs form a rich repertoire of stories that screenwriters of the emerging film industry are increasingly attempting to mine. In this article, we show how cinematic storytelling in Bhutan functions as a kind of 'secondary orality' through our analyses of an earlier international co-production Travellers and Magicians (2003), two local DV films, and the film project that Clayton is developing in dialogue with Bhutanese writers, Jumolhari. We argue that Bhutan's Buddhist, animist and oral traditions challenge and transform classically established cinema conventions of story structure, decentring individual human subjectivity as the controlling force and producing an altogether different kind of hero's journey.
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Keywords: Bhutan; Buddhism; Storytelling; alternative narration; emerging cinema; oral tradition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Essex 2: Royal Holloway University of London

Publication date: 2012-02-09

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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