Butter Lamp


Amongst the great diverse group of 5, The Phone Call took home the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film this past Sunday. As much as I enjoyed the film’s intimate look into human connection and crisis centers, I definitely thought the golden statue really should have gone to Butter Lamp. After watching all five nominees a few days ago, I put my ballot down (figuratively, not literally…sad, I know) for Butter Lamp by Beijing director and Hu Wei and French producer Julien Feret. This film stood out for its originality, thought, and design.

This Chinese-French film brilliantly portrays a photographer and his assistant taking several group photos of Tibetan villagers and children. Throughout the 15 minutes, we are taken through several people, conversations, backdrops and costume changes. The camera stands in one place throughout the film that allows us to observe and reflect upon a generational gap and the dying of culture.

The way the photographer choreographs and dresses each shot is both amusing and tantalizing. His backdrops range from Disneyland, the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and a European home—all very Western and modern. He offers and encourages props and cooler, sleeker jackets. It’s fascinating to watch and observe each group and the decor. But more importantly, each shot hauntingly documents a gradual loss in culture and tradition, as urbanization and Westernization are growing. The backdrops, props, and costumes bring in a sense of paradox. The only time it actually seems fluid is when a young couple takes their photo.


Representing wisdom, a butter lamp is a Buddhist and Tibetan ritual item that is often lighted on behalf of the deceased. As the photographer takes down his set at the end, there is a shot of a butter lamp against the true backdrop—vast hills interrupted by construction. Wei tells the tale of a dying culture in a very unique, artistic, and thoughtful way.

All of the 5 nominated short films are available for rent on Vimeo On Demand.


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