Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan

Update January 2013: the Headwind documentary production is terminated due to lack of production funding and support.

Since September 2010 I have been working with some friends on the documentary HEADWIND about the issue of the Bhutanese people who have been living in exile from their country ever since the early 1990’s.

The production stage of the documentary is finished and in 2012 we have been working on the post production of the film. But we have not been able to gain enough community support and funds to get the job done. So in the last months of December we had to face the fact that making a full length documentary to the quality standards we had set was impossible.

In January 2013 the full length documentary project has been terminated.

Later in 2013 a number of short films will be post produced on the basis of the footage for the Headwind project. More information on that is and will come available on the Headwind website. There are no deadlines and no release dates set for these short films.

Alice Anna Verheij
Director / producer Headwind

Official Trailer of Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan
Headwind filmposter January 2012, © 2012 White Stork Films

Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan

The story

In the years 1990 to 1992 some 120.000 people living in the south and east of Bhutan were driven out of their homeland into exile. Twenty years later they still live in either refugee camps in the southeast of Nepal or in diaspora all over the world in western civilization. And the number of resettlers is growing whereas the number of people left behind living in limbo in and outside the UNHCR managed refugee camps decrease.

Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan is a documentary that sheds light on history, current situation, resettlement and integration challenges of the exiled people from Bhutan. The supposed to be country of Gross National Happiness.

The drama

Imagine being in 40 years old. Imagine that in the past you were driven into exile and ended up without any hope for a decent future in a refugee camp. Living under bamboo roofs and simple soil. Next to the river where the dead are being cremated. Imagine loosing friends and family who have been resettled from your daily existence. Imagine that one day you might very well resettle yourself to a far away country with a culture that is completely different from your own. Imagine you have children you want to have a better life and imagine that in reality you long to return to the country you were born.

Such a life is the life of the Bhutanese filmed in this documentary.

Headwind, the forgotten exiles of Bhutan tells a tale. A tale of perseverance and a tale of grabbing a straw for a better life but also a tale of loss of friendships and culture, of broken families and long distance relationships. This documentary is a visual document of what happens when the international community decides to displace an exiled people in stead of pressuring the government of the country where they came from to repatriate. It shows how people struggle to retain culture and religion and how against all odds they find a way to cope. Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan gives a voice to the unheard and a face to the unseen.

The creation

Headwind, the forgotten exiles of Bhutan has been filmed on location in Nepal, India and the Netherlands in 2011 and 2012 without support from any government or the UNHCR, funded by the director and a few donors. The film has been created without any influence from whatever organization, political party or advocacy group. All footage of the documentary is real, no reenactment is used and all added footage and stills from other sources have been thoroughly checked. It is not a political film, it doesn’t pass judgement because that is not necessary. Headwind, the forgotten exiles of Bhutan is not a film with graphic content or overly dramatized scenes, it merely shows the reality from the perspective of an independent observer and film maker.

A document of culture

As the exile of the Bhutanese is basically a cultural cleansing performed by a government and monarch with no regard for human rights, this film captures and shows the culture of the exiles. It does that by showing daily life in the refugee camps and after resettlement but also by integrating music and poetry from the Bhutanese and Nepali communities.

The reasons for making this film

Headwind, the forgotten exiles of Bhutan is made by the director/producer Alice Verheij. The Nepal production was co-produced by Vidhyapati Mishra, an acclaimed journalist from the Bhutanese refugee community in the Nepal. The film is an initiative from the director and the idea came from a number of conversations with Bhutanese exiles in the Netherlands in combination with the understanding that western society seems oblivious of this percentagewise largest cultural and ethnic cleansing in the last 50 years: the exile of almost 20% of Bhutan’s population from that Himalayan kingdom. The objective of Headwind, the forgotten exiles of Bhutan is to shed some light on what happened and why it happened, how these exiles were forgotten and how they are now being thrown into diaspora by the international community in an attempt to erase the refugee situation and cover up history. The film also shows how resettlement can be a good thing for young people but a drama for the elderly who in the end are lost in history and end up in mental homelessness.

The director,

Alice Verheij


2 thoughts on “Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan

  1. @Minjur I have my own research and are supported in my opinions by leading international organizations including the UN and many, many other sources. The evidence is overwhelming, the history is undisputable. These people are not migrants but exiles. I prefer to name them for what they are.
    You might not agree, you have a right to do so. But I do not walk away for historical and political facts.

  2. There was no ethnic cleansing in Bhutan. There was a concerted campaign by Nepalese migrants from Nepal to force entry into Bhutan to upset its demographic balance and overthrow its government. Your sympathy for migrants is commendable, but that does not mean that everything they told you is true.

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