Butter Lamp (2013) Short Film Review

Butter Lamp is a critically acclaimed short film that has come a long way, it has already won 70 awards and has been selected for 200 film festivals. It has now been nominated for the Oscars as a ‘Live Action Short’. 

One hundred and forty-one films had originally qualified in the category ‘Live Action Short’ for the 87th Academy Awards. The 5 nominated films include:

Aya,” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, directors (Chasis Films)

“Boogaloo and Graham,” Michael Lennox, director, and Ronan Blaney, writer (Out of Orbit)

Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak),” Hu Wei, director, and Julien Féret, producer (Ama Productions)

Parvaneh,” Talkhon Hamzavi, director, and Stefan Eichenberger, producer (Zurich University of Arts)

The Phone Call,” Mat Kirkby, director, and James Lucas, writer (Rsa Films)

The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

The film, directed by Hu Wei, is about a young photographer and his assistant photographing Tibetan nomads in front of various backgrounds.

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As an avid lover of photography, this short film speaks volumes to me. Photography allows us to share with the world images of places and people we may never see in our own lifetime, it allows us to see just truly how big the world really is. In Butter Lamp, the film shows us a side of photography many of us can relate to, which are family portraits. Anyone who has taken part of family portraits will understand the struggle to get the perfect picture of a loving and happily smiling family. There will always be one someone who blinks or looks away just as the camera flashes to take a picture. It’s hard enough trying to keep babies and young kids still and long enough for a picture to be taken. But all this behind the scenes drama as we straighten our ties, iron out the creases in our clothes and brush our hair is the human side of what photography is all about. Photography can perfectly capture our downfalls and essentially what makes us human. Behind every perfect family portrait is a family who like everybody else, has their own struggles. I mean nobody is perfect; we are only human after all.


In Butter Lamp it’s not just the photographs that tell us the story of these Tibetan nomads but the little conversions they have amongst themselves during the photo-shoot. They discuss topics including the state of the financial economy, the fact that price goes up for everything except income. The film reminds the viewer that no matter what country you are from, everyone struggles with the same problems.

At one point, we find out that not everyone is happy enough to take part in these photo-shoots. Five minutes into the film as the photographer dresses up the set, Gongbo refuses to change into another jacket and walks off set. The photographer goes ahead to take the picture without Gongbo but the viewer is left to wonder why he walked off in the first place. Was he uncomfortable with getting his picture taken? In the next scene we realise that the clothes he wore were significant to him as they were made by his mother. The clothes represented a part of his mother he still had and could hold onto to remember her by. Photography doesn’t show us the whole story but this short film perfectly captures that behind every photograph are hidden meanings.

During one scene, a grandmother gets her photograph taken for the first time. Many of us have grown up, especially in this digital age of social media, having had our photographs taken thousands of times so it’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to get your photograph taken for the first time. It was a nice touch for them to choose a background of a place that she dreamed of visiting one day, the Potala Palace. However it backfires when she keeps kneeling down to pray in front of it so the photographer changes the background to a white sandy beach instead. Could it be that as someone who has never had their photograph taken, they too may not have been exposed to much photography and so probably wouldn’t realise when a photograph is not the real thing?

This short film gives viewers a different view of photography, it brings us back to what society used to be like before the digital age took over and our obsession with social media and selfies began.

Hu Wei’s Butter Lamp is currently screening in over 450 theaters in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Latin America.

About the Author


Jenny Tang

Nerdgeist Editor

Contact me for any Press, Reviews, Advertising or General Enquiries.


Twitter: @NGeistofficial

I love food, films, TV, photography and technology.

You can find me next at SXSW 2015 (Austin, Texas) & Emerald City Comic Con 2015 (Seattle). You can find and contact me at SXSW on SXSW Social.

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