Bhutanese filmmaker Dechen Roder’s new film, “I, The Song,” which is selected at the Venice Production Bridge’s gap financing market, will commence principal photography in December.

Roder’s debut feature “Honeygiver Among the Dogs” premiered at Busan in 2016, and went on to have a successful festival run including at Berlin, Locarno, Hong Kong, Taipei and Fribourg, where it won three major awards.

“I, The Song” was born when two friends of Roder experienced the horror of being in non-consensual pornographic videos and photos in Bhutan, where in both cases it was recorded and shared without their knowledge or consent.

Roder also wanted to make a film to explore the story where a remote community in Bhutan claimed that the capital city Thimphu had stolen a sacred song of theirs, performing it on TV, over the radio, on stage, and for entertainment. The community felt that this song was sung out of context, and thus desecrated and would upset their female guardian deity.

“The story and themes of the film were inspired by real-life events around me. But I use these only as seeds of a story to come up with a more surreal, mystical drama film,” Roder told Variety.

“Bhutan jumped into modernity with frightening speed. My mother grew up in a generation without roads and before modern education. She walked 12 days to go to school in India. The speed in which our society has changed is alarming. We jumped from an oral culture straight into a visual culture in the blink of an eye. In some ways I feel we didn’t have time to catch our breath, to make sense of what something as simple as recording someone/something and sharing that recording means. I want to explore some of the implications of the stolen stories that digital technology facilitates somehow. The film aims to be an artistic reflection, or a pondering, of this,” Roder adds.

The film is produced by Roder’s Dakinny Productions (Bhutan), Johann Chapelan for Girelle Production (France), Fernanda Renno for Fidalgo Film Production (Norway), Stefano Centini for Volos Films (Taiwan) and Michaël Gauthier and Mathilde Solimeo for Follow Back Films (France).

The project has benefited from several funds and awards including MPA Asian Pacific Screen Awards Film Fund, Visions Sud Est (Switzerland), Ciclic (France), Sorfond (Norway), Asian Project Market, Busan, Produire au Sud (Festival des 3 Continents) workshop, Kolkata and NFDC Film Bazaar, Goa.

Chapelan, who is an associate producer on 2021 Cannes title “Rehana,” met Roder in 2018 at Busan, during the Asian Project Market and helped her to develop the script, build the financing strategy, package the project, and find other partners.

“Working for this film with Dechen seemed to me like a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was the chance to make a very special film which talks about issues I am concerned about, such as women’s rights, human exploitation or the digitalization of our life, and topics or activities I am feeling close to – Buddhism, Tibetan cultures, spirituality, mountains,” Chapelan told Variety.

” ‘I, the Song’ is a very unique project, with a strong female character and a sharp modern story about authenticity and identity in today’s digital world. It becomes obvious that we live now in a cybernetic world dominated by the digital, though we are facing a wave of dangerous and toxic masculinity on the rise and the eclipse of chauvinist nationalism worldwide,” Chapelan added. “From Thimphu to New York we all struggle with similar alienation and exploitation conveyed by digital life and the end of globalization. I believe Dechen’s film, while referring to a classic style and storyline such as a film noir, with an amazing and daring plot twist, brings answers and values to what is really meaningful in our lives today. Inspired by existentialism and Buddhism, her film is exploring and redefining the notion of sacredness, recalling the value of our humanity and looking for what is really meaningful.”

The project has raised 70% of its financing, which will cover principal photography. Roder is currently in pre-production, finalizing locations in remote corners of Bhutan. Chapelan is at the Venice Production Bridge, looking to find gap funding to cover post-production, ahead of the film’s winter shoot.

“We want the best post-production facilities and talents for Dechen to make her film blossom,” Chapelan said.