Still from the film "The Monk and the Gun"
The Monk and the Gun is directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji ’06.

A Lawrence alumnus is back in the Oscars conversation.

The Monk and the Gun, the second film directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji ’06, is drawing Oscar buzz leading up to the Jan. 23 announcement of Academy Award nominations. It is one of 15 films shortlisted in the International Feature Film category.

It is Dorji’s follow-up to his debut film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, which earned a 2022 Academy Award nomination.

Dorji, of Bhutan, has been making the rounds of film festivals and other pre-Oscar engagements in recent months. Since having its world premiere in early September at the Telluride Film Festival, The Monk and the Gun has garnered attention at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, and the Rome Film Festival, among others. A U.S. release of the film is scheduled for early February. (Update Jan. 23: The Monk and the Gun did not receive an Oscar nomination.)

Set in 2006, the film depicts the Kingdom of Bhutan’s transition to democracy through an oft-humorous story involving a mock election, a valuable rifle that falls into the hands of a monk, an American antique weapons collector in pursuit, and villagers unmoved by material goods.

The Monk and the Gun earned the Showcase Audience Choice Award in Vancouver and the Special Jury Prize in Rome. And it’s been drawing stellar reviews.

Variety magazine called it a “droll, shrewdly satirical fable, in which Western values crash against a seemingly intransigent (but potentially more enlightened) South Asian culture.” The review praised Dorji as a “gifted storyteller who keeps audiences guessing about his characters’ motives until the surprising moment everything comes together.”

Deadline predicted an Oscar nod for Dorji and the film: “No sophomore jinx here, this one is even better than his first, and that is saying something.”Dorji, a Bhutan native, was a government major at Lawrence and has said professors such as Claudena Skran, William Hixon, and Steven Wulf were instrumental in his studies. He returned to Bhutan following graduation and took up filmmaking about a decade later.

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In an interview with The Wrap, Dorji said he’s still wrapping his head around the whirlwind journey he took when Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom went from an unknown film by a first-time Bhutanese filmmaker to a 2022 Oscar nominee.

It can be quite challenging when you work that hard to make something and then people don’t even see it,” Dorji said. “But as a Buddhist, I believe in karma, and I believe that if you have the right motivation and you work hard, things start turning around. And it was amazing to see the film go from this remote school (where the film was shot) and make its way through the world and end up as an Oscar nominee.”

The Monk and the Gun explores new territory, set in the context of a shift to democracy, Dorji tells The Wrap.

“I really wanted to build on what I had achieved with Lunana and challenge myself as a storyteller,” he said. “I also wanted to play around with political satire and tell a story of my country in this state of transition.”