LOCARNO, Switzerland — For veteran British producer Jeremy Thomas serving as executive producer of Bhutanese lama and film director Khyentse Norbu’s fourth feature “Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait” — which world premiers in Locarno today— is a natural development of a long rapport that began during the Bhutan shoot for Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1993 film “Little Buddha.”
Norbu at the time served as a consultant for Bertolucci. He then went to film school in New York and made a splash with his directorial debut “The Cup,” in 1999, about a bunch of soccer-crazed Tibetan monks who rent a satellite dish to watch the 1998 World Cup final. “Travellers and Magicians,” in which a young Bhutanese government official dreams of escaping to America, followed in 2003; segued by “Vara: A Blessing,” a tale of forbidden love between a Hindi dancer and a Muslim sculptor, in 2013.
These titles have all been executive produced by Thomas and distributed internationally by his HanWay Films.
“I’ve been with him in all his films, to sort of support him” says Thomas, who spent quite a long time in Bhutan for “Little Buddha.” “It’s very interesting to be with a director like that because of the culture that evolves,” he notes.
Norbu, who Thomas described as the most important Buddhist figure in Buthan, comes from a long long line of spiritual teachers. He is considered to be the incarnation of the 19th century saint Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.
“He also has an enormous film knowledge; really knows cinema back to front,” Thomas underlines. And “the story that he’s telling in this film it has a credibility to it, because of his telling the story.”
“It’s the story of a man’s [spiritual] journey to act the way you would act if you had no identity,” he says.
Thomas’ role is really as an advisor on all the aspects of the film. “I read the screenplay, talked about it a bit, talked about the editing a bit, and then talked about how to position it, present it and promote it,” he explains. The producer is Pawo Choyning Dorji who is in Locarno with Thomas and “Hema Hema” actors Thinley Dorji, Tshering Dorji, and Sadon Lhamo.
Khyentse Norbu could not make the trek because he will be “teaching thousands of people.”
“The Locarno date clashed with his teachings, he can’t be here,” said Thomas. “So I thought if I can go there we can get more support for the film.”