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The Red Phallus
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Tashi Gyeltshen, Bhutan

Bhutanese Tashi Gyeltshen’s debut set the mood high in the mountains. A young high school girl Sangay (Tshering Euden) has trouble waking up for school. Her father (Dorji Gyseltshen) is constantly disturbed by her lethargic approach to life. The film is misty, blues, greys and unclear. Her father insists that she takes carved Phallus to a woman who just completed her house. It is a present and will bring fertility and wellbeing to their house. On her way back many red-masked, clown-like figures dressed in crimson red, appear and follow, haunting her until she crosses the bridge. The film is heavily symbolic and attempts to explain karma to us. Her married boyfriend tries to give her clarity that she should leave this place. He himself doesn’t have the all the answers either, but he knows that her father, who is known as the favorite clown at all the festivals in the region is hiding behind a mask.

She suffers in a predominately male society. Her mother’s absence is clearly felt because she dedicates herself to weaving the most beautiful cloth of white in honor of her mother. She fights against the oppression that she feels from all the male figures around her. Can she change her future? Can she change her karma?

It was a nice surprise to see program director Maryanne Redpath at the photo shooting of THE RED PHALLUS. Every year her team picks a fantastic selection of films for both Generation and the NatiVe programs. I have never been disappointed by these programs. They are original, gripping, enticing and I always learn something new.

This film was no different except I was invited to have tea with the crew and cast. Tshering Euden was having difficulty getting something to drink so I jumped in before the film started. She was surprised and thankful. She also informed that people in Germany eat too much sugar. She herself loves very spicy food and explains that she couldn’t eat any of the food here that was available – too much sugar! I knew about the spicy paste that she likes which is similar to Myanmar.  That food is too spicy for me. We both laughed and I told her not to worry that she will be going home soon.

After the movie she told me she was embarrassed because a lady walked up to her and told her that she was her producer. She had never seen this woman before. That does seem pretty strange. I replied, “Be glad to have a producer because you have made a beautiful film.” This was the second time that I heard about a group from a distant land getting money to make a film but not really knowing where the money came from but who cares? How strange to have wonderful exotic films being made in distant lands from some foundation.