With its simple yet intimate shots, “The Next Guardian” creates a beautiful family portrait while still managing to reference broader themes that any audience can relate to.
Over the course of 75 minutes, directors Dorottya Zurbó and Arun Bhattarai draw one into the world of siblings Gyembo and Tashi, two young teenagers whose lives are a mixture of traditional and modern Bhutanese culture. The film explores Gyembo’s uncertainty about taking over the family Buddhist monastery and Tashi vying for a spot on the national soccer team. Above all, however, it captures their family dynamics.
Many scenes, such as when Gyembo and Tashi scrolled through Facebook to find potential girlfriends, were surprisingly relatable. Viewers got to see that although the United States and Bhutan may seemingly be very different, globalism is closing the cultural gap. It’s clear that previously unpopular pastimes like watching soccer technique tutorials on YouTube and playing video games have begun to dominate Bhutanese youth, “The Next Guardian” doesn’t attempt to evaluate this trend but rather just document its effects on a small-scale stage.
Despite the strong message and relevant themes, at times the film felt repetitive. Certain scenes, like when Tashi and Gyembo’s dad went on a long-winded speech about how important the monastery was, were repeated in a way that didn’t add any dimension. Similarly, there were a couple shaky and dark clips that photographers took of the car rides. These seemed very out of place and actually subtracted away from the fluidity of the work as a whole.
Overall, the cinematography worked perfectly for the story “The Next Guardian” told. There was no need for overly artistic shots and the clear and bright tone meant viewers could really focus in on the heartwarming and interesting experience.
Q and A with co-directors Dorottya Zurbó and Arun Bhattarai
(Warning, may include spoilers)
Q: How did you come to access this story since historically Bhutan is hard to access?
A: DZ- Three years ago, when we decided to work together, we started to research subjects. We were wondering what we would like to capture [and] we were interested in capturing this time of transition. How technology stepped in and how the generations are becoming more and more distant. Actually, when this story started, we heard they wanted to establish the first women’s [soccer] team in Bhutan. That was our first trigger that we started to follow.
In the [soccer] camp we met with Tashi and we really got close to her because we saw how strongly she was expressing her boyish identity. Then, through her, she introduced us to her family. Then we went to visit them in their place. We saw the monastery, we got close to the family. We decided we’d like to portray their lives.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: How did you develop this relationship with the family?
A: AB- We spent close to three years working on this film and most of the time instead of filming we were actually building our relationship with this family because they weren’t used to the camera. They also aren’t really used to films as such because they aren’t exposed to films and they can’t distinguish what is documentary, what is fiction, what is reportage so we had to spend a lot of time with them in their house.
I had a really great relationship with Gyembo and Dorottya had a really great relationship with Tashi. Even when [Dorottya] would go back to Hungary, she’d keep in touch. She’d show [Tashi] her father’s garden and say ‘here, this is what a Hungarian garden looks like.’ Tashi would send pictures from school and so that’s how we stayed in touch.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: How’d you explain what this project was?
A: AB- The only way we could tell them was by showing other films, and say ‘this is the kind of thing we are trying to do.
DZ- We told them we would really like to capture their live and be part of it. They were very welcoming from the beginning. We tried to tell them that we would come back time to time because we would like to see how Tashi and Gyembo are evolving and what happens to them, as a long-term project. So slowly, the just got used to us, that we are coming every winter and every summer. We are always there.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Were the shots mixing traditional and modern visuals intentional, such as when the men were using traditional bows yet modern arrows?
A: AB- It’s something that even we didn’t notice. It’s true that archery is really popular in Bhutan and they tend to use traditional bows but now the people are more into compound bow. There are these really small and subtle traditional and modern clashes which we see everyday in Bhutan.
DZ- What’s intentional is that we wanted to capture the contrast between the father’s world and the kid’s world and also it was intentional that we were searching compositions where we can really express the two. Also with the editing we were trying to make this contrast as well. For me, one of my favorite, which is kind of the essence of this traditional world, is the television in the traditional frame that the father made. One day we just entered the living room and it was there all decorated. We were trying to find these subtle hints of this culture clash.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Did Gyembo end up inheriting the monastery?
A: AB- Now the father wants to send him to be a monk after his twelfth standard which is in two more years. It’s like the father is always postponing the inevitable.
DZ- What we also found a little bit is the process of making this film and talking about the inheritance with the father or asking questions from him. Then after we showed the film to him, he got hesitant about sending Gyembo immediately to the monastery because I think he never saw this other side of his kids. So we found basically this decision that he stay in the high school was a little bit affected by the film.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Was the father’s father educated in a monastery?
A: AB- So none of them went to the monastery, not even the grandfather. That’s why right now the father wants Gyembo to be capable enough so the villagers and community would accept him as a monk. It’s also a question of property, keeping the family land. If nobody is taking care of the monastery, the government will take it over themselves.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: What does Tashi want for her future?
A: AB- Tashi wants to go to another [soccer] selection and that still remains Tashi’s dream
DZ- She’s still studying in high school.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Are Buddhists more gracious about gender expression?
A: AB- I think the father is very influenced by Buddhist philosophy. That is the first time we got close to the family as well when the father was referring to Tashi as ‘he’. We asked him and the father spontaneously he said Tashi must have been a boy in a previous life. This is something he mentions quite often. So it’s something to do with his beliefs. On one hand he uses his beliefs to go against Gymbo’s wishes but on the other he is so accepting of his daughter.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Is there any movement to have more female involvement in the Buddhist religion leadership?
A: AB- The thing is traditionally women are not allowed to take over the monastery so now with times we have begun to see more nuns. Also I know one or two monasteries in Bhutan now where there are women who are the head of the monastery. It’s something changing with the times.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: Are there family relationships in Bhutan similar to this?
A: AB- No, not so much. That’s why we found this family to be unique, because there is this big acceptance. Most of the time what happens to families in Bhutan is they’ll live together but they don’t share their innermost thoughts. It’s a one-way conversation. Usually we never know what is there in the children’s minds. That was one thing we wanted to capture.
DZ- At the same time we found Tashi and Gyembo’s relationship very special. That Gyembo is accepting her as a little brother and introducing her to the man’s world. We found that this relationship is very strong between the two of them. That’s why we wanted to follow it.
[divider style=”dashed” divider_color=”#000705″ size=”2″] Q: What’s next?
A: DZ- I’m working on a documentary in Hungary so I was shooting the two films parallelly. Arun is also working on another film. But actually we are planning to maybe after five years we would like to see what happens with Gyembo and Tashi.
Did you see the film? What did you think? Let us know below.