The story of the weeping camel (Die geschichte vom weinenden kamel) - Janchiv Ayurzana, Chimed Ohin, Amgaabazar Gonson, Luigi Falorni
Threat advisory: Under evaluation
Springtime in the Gobi Desert, South Mongolia. A family of nomadic shepherds assists the births of their camel herd. One of the camels has an excruciatingly difficult delivery but, with help from the family, out comes a rare white colt. Despite the efforts of the shepherds, the mother rejects the newborn, refusing it her milk and her motherly love. When any hope for the little one seems to have vanished, the nomads send their two young boys on a journey through the desert, to a backwater town in search of a musician who is their only hope for saving the colt's life.
Theatrical propaganda posters
Target demographic movie keyword propaganda
- Film Mongolia Gobi Desert camel
Persons of interest
- Janchiv Ayurzana .... Janchiv
- Chimed Ohin .... Chimed
- Amgaabazar Gonson .... Amgaa
- Zeveljamz Nyam .... Zevel
- Ikhbayar Amgaabazar .... Ikchee
- Odgerel Ayusch .... Odgoo
- Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar .... Dude
- Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar .... Ugna
- Guntbaatar Ikhbayar .... Guntee
- Byambasuren Davaa .... Screenwriter
- Luigi Falorni .... Screenwriter
- Byambasuren Davaa .... Director
- Luigi Falorni .... Director
Cinematic intelligence sources
- The story of the weeping camel (Die geschichte vom weinenden kamel) official movie site
- The story of the weeping camel (Die geschichte vom weinenden kamel) QuickTime movie trailers
- Awards and film festivals:
- Bavarian Film Awards 2004: Won: Best Documentary (Luigi Falorni, Byambasuren Davaa)
- European Film Awards 2003: Nominated: Best Documentary Award (Luigi Falorni, Byambasuren Davaa)
- São Paulo International Film Festival 2004: New filmmakers competition
- Interviews with Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni
- See also A time for drunken horses
- Studios and distributors:
Special Agent Matti
Security censorship classification
PG (Mature themes)
87 minutes (1:27 hours)
Not for public release in Australia before date
[ Return to top ]
Is the way of life depicted in the film common or rare in relation to the general population of Mongolia?
Although the number decreased, there are still many families who live like nomads. In the past the families produced everything they would need for living. Today many nomads are confronted to make a decision of how to live and if to live a traditional life. Many of the young people want to live a modern live in the city, to drink Coca Cola and to play with a Gameboy. Since 1990 the population increased significantly in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Ten years ago, approximately one quarter of the complete population lived in the capital; today it is almost 50%. This brings problems, which didn't exist before. Unemployment, alcoholism, etc.
When did you first hear about the musical ritual portrayed in the film?
I am the first generation of my family who grew up in the city. My grandparents were nomads, but they moved to the city. My Mother was 15 or 16 when they moved, and my father was a little younger. The musical ritual was something completely normal for my grandparents. Nothing special at all. It is like drinking a cup of tea everyday - if this belongs to your everyday rituals, you probably would not tell this to your grandchildren. So I did not hear about the ritual from my grandparents, but through a movie I saw at the beginning of the 80s about a camel - mother which repudiated its colt. I was part of a theatre group for children. The film was so magical. Many of the children cried when they saw the film. I think I cried the loudest: I felt so sorry for the camels. I engrained this movie into my memory. Every time I heard something about the Gobi desert, I saw the pictures of the movie in front of me. And I believe this will always stay like this.
Did you go looking for this sort of mother/colt problem? What would you have done if it had not happened while you were there? What would your movie have been about?
The musical ritual is being used in several cases. Of course we wanted the mother-colt problem to happen. But we knew that at least one occurrence will happen, either after the death of the mother camel through sickness, or after the death of a colt by wolves. God, or the spirit of nature, or however you want to call it didn't confront us with a sad case that an animal died. This was pure luck. When you have a wish, the spirit will listen to you. Like my grandmother, I am a person with a deep faith. I need that. My grandmother, for example, always said: "My dear daughter, you should think every morning about your wish, not about your goal, but about your wish. If your wish becomes true, it is beautiful, if not it was just a wish. When you think about your wish, your soul and your spirit go towards the wish and give you the power that your wish will come true." We always believed that it would work. It never occurred to us that it wouldn't.
Also the film academy in Munich, who produced this film, totally believed in us. They gave us complete freedom and didn't put any pressure on us, which was unbelievably helpful for us. If the ritual had not taken place, had failed, what would have happened to the camel? The camel baby wouldn't stop crying. Even if someone would have fed it with a bottle. It is a heart-breaking cry; no one can bare it. The nomads would never let this happen. Also the camel wouldn't develop. It probably would die from sorrow. Camels really have a hard time getting over the mother-child separation. They have to overcome the trauma and the music and the singing of the nomads helps them to accomplish that. Since I started to do research on this subject, I didn't hear of any case, in which the ritual didn't work out. I spoke to a lot of nomads about this, but I never heard that it didn't work. In our case it took one day. But I know from the old nomads, that in other cases it took several days. If it happened to an old animal, than it took longer. Each camel is an individual. That is why it takes a different amount of time with each animal. It depends on the character of each animal.
How does the family earn its living? Where do they get their money?
Nomads can produce all they need for life by themselves. They produce everything! They don't think about money or an account in Switzerland. Their assets are the animals they have. What they have, they were given by the nature around them. They cherish nature, as they know, that they depend on it. They adjusted their lifestyle to the nature and not the nature to their lifestyle. They understood that we as humans have to adjust to nature and not the other way around. That is the philosophy of the nomads. Whatever they produce and not use by themselves, they will sell on the market and buy in exchange products they need like food and clothes. They are happy with what they have and can manage very well.
What are the lyrics to the song sung during the ritual? How would you translate them?
The musical ritual that is being used doesn't have lyrics, just four letters. In our case, the four letters are "HOOS". It is an ongoing repetition of this word. The word doesn't have any meaning, just an effect. It doesn't have a melody or any musical structure. Every body does it the way he wants or feels. For sheep, for example, you would use the four letters "TOIG". You repeat the four letters three times. Every animal has its own sound. Maybe it's the sound that makes the animals feel closer to the human. I don't know how this developed, but people always did it like this, it is the tradition.
In what way did you get the family to "stage" the actions you were looking for?
I asked the nomads to tell us what do they do on their daily life. They would never do this because people just don't talk about their daily life. So I told them that we don't know many things that are natural for them, but that we're interested in them. This is something they could understand.
What films or filmmakers were you influenced by? What is about those films/filmmakers that is important to you?
I grew up in a world of socialism and communism. Documentaries were mainly used for propaganda and to tell the news. When I started my studies in the film academy in Munich, I found huge stock of information and films and I had to decide what to use. I asked myself, is a documentary still a documentary if you tell such a big story. I come from the desert, I cannot swim. When I see the ocean, I have the feeling of something very big. This is exactly what happened to me when I saw all the treasures of documentaries here at the academy. I admire many directors of documentaries, but I wouldn't refer to anybody. I can mention many films that really impressed me, but I never thought I wanted to make a movie like "X" or "Y". That is impossible because I have my own story, which I want to tell.
Has the family seen the film?
Just recently I showed the film to the nomads and I was never that excited in my life! The family was touched to tears and they laughed a lot. The Great-grandmother died a few weeks earlier and I felt guilty that I didn't finish the film earlier so she could have seen it. The screening was very emotional. When Unga saw his Great-grandmother on the screen, he became very quiet. And the Great-grandfather was so sad about the death of his wife that he said he didn't want to live any more. It was really very emotional.
The little boy grew so much. He can talk by now, and when he saw his grand-grandmother he always asked if this is at home?
Life in Mongolia is so different. No TV, no radio. You might think life is really slowly, but words are faster than the wind. Entertainment and TV happens in the heads of the people. If for example somebody tells some news about a circus artist, the people will start to imagine and fantasise about the artist. People still can imagine things. And everybody has a different picture in his or her head. One might imagine the artist in a blue dress, the next one in a green one. Every body sees something different.
Interview by Andrea Kriegl
Interview with Luigi Falorni
An Italian in the desert. What was your approach to the subject of this film?
Mongolia is a wonderful faraway land. It's one of those few places on earth still able to trigger one's imagination, as it hasn't been (yet) exhaustively explored by our western media. But at the very beginning of our project, it was not the exotic of the subject or the curiousness of camel tears that waked my interest. I was never keen on making naturalistic or ethnographical documentaries. What really enthralled me about the nomads' ritual that Byambasuren had told us about, was its universal reach, its message immediately accessible to anyone. It is the story of a salvation, of the loss of love and the struggle to win it back. The little starving camel is each of us: estranged, unceasingly searching for protection and needing to belong. Its fate is the visible evidence that no life is possible without love.
What kind of film is it really? Is it a true documentary? Partly it looks and feels rather like a feature film.
I find the definition "narrative documentary" the most appropriate. It implies the use of feature film elements and drama techniques, still placing the film within the boundaries of the documentary family. Our protagonists are real nomads from the Gobi that "played" before the camera the same roles they have in real life. Most of the actions in the main storyline - the delivery, the rejection, the ritual - actually took place as they are shown in the film. On the other hand some of the side-stories and connections between scenes where re-enacted for camera, in order to complement the main storyline and to sustain the film flow. Our inspiring example in the critical task of combining and balancing between the two souls of filmmaking was the early work of Robert J Flaherty. In films like Nanook of the north (1922) and Man of Aran (1934) this extraordinary filmmaker put together real, non-actor characters with carefully planned mise-en-scène. His intention was to bring the Inuit's life on the pack or the struggle for survival on the Aran Islands as close to the audience as possible. His most quoted metaphor to describe his ambition as a filmmaker is: "You must show, how a rose smells!" I hope, our film honours this legacy.
The camera never "shows off". The images are kept simple and clear, which makes part of the film's charm. How did you develop the visual concept?
This project gave me the chance to reconsider a naive approach to filmmaking. The nomads we met live and communicate in an extremely simple, straightforward manner. They don't make use of parodies or double meanings, don't distort or twist things around ten corners like we do, they completely ignore cynicism. Everything and everyone is for them real and unique. So once you are among them, you get to feel yourself more real and unique. A wonderful feeling, that somehow resembles childhood. I wanted the images to reflect this naive perception of the world. The camera was to avoid abuses, the framing to be understood as a window on the nomads' life and to be held quiet and simple. The same applied to the rhythm of the editing, which was intended to give back the sense of the calm and vastness of the desert and its inhabitants.
Byambasuren Davaa and you equally shared the directing. How did you two divide tasks and how did your co-operation work out?
Byambaa and I worked closely together throughout the production and I have to say it was a very successful co-operation. In spite of our very different personalities, we share a similar taste and most decisions were taken unanimously. We are complementary to each other in that I believe Byambasuren has the gift to give warmth to each single scene, whereas my strength lies in fitting the different bits and pieces to a consistent story. During the shooting Byambasuren mainly took care of the communication with the nomads and of their direction. Besides camera work, I concentrated on planning the next day's shoot on the base of what we had already filmed. We had a fairly detailed treatment as a guideline, but documentary work requires a lot of improvisation and adaptability to the unforeseen. The scary thing about this project was that, as camel deliveries all take place within one month during springtime, we only had few weeks at disposal for shooting the whole film. If anything had gone wrong we wouldn't have had any possibility to fly back to Mongolia and do some re-shooting.
How did shooting in the desert work out for you? What was your experience with the nomad family like?
The Gobi Desert is a magic and wonderful place to visit as a tourist, I guess. Not quite the same if you are there to work! Stormy winds up to 150 kph, temperature drops of over 30°C overnight, rather unusual food and living conditions, all of this definitely prevented us from getting bored. Each one of the six members in our team got sick at some point or another, some of the film equipment broke down and we often had to stop shooting because the wind was making sound recording impossible. Of the 35 days planned for shooting within the 7 week period we spent in Mongolia, only 23 active days remained in the end. So that transformed what was supposed to be a relaxed and enjoyable shoot in a rush against time. On the other hand, the nomads were just wonderful. They accepted us right away and participated with great enthusiasm - and patience! - to the shooting. At first they found it quite funny as we eventually asked them to repeat an action or a dialogue for camera. But later on they got so used to the shooting procedures that little Ugna once even anticipated us at the beginning of a take by saying himself, in German: "Ton, ab!" ( "Sound, roll!"). One thing I still regret is that because of our tight schedule we didn't have the time and tranquillity to be much together with the family "off camera". Only when the shooting was finally over and our equipment packed was it possible for me to relax and enjoy one last memorable night in company of the nomads - which we spent drinking Mongolian brandy and singing a delirious mixture of Mongolian and Italian songs until dawn...
This is your graduation film at the Munich Film School, what are your plans for the future?
This project has been very demanding for everyone involved, especially for Byambasuren, Tobias Siebert, who is the student producer, and me. It was planned to be a 60 minute TV documentary, but ended up as a full-length picture that will soon have theatrical release in Germany (January 2004) and many other countries around the world. The interest shown by the distributors yielded me a new perspective on documentary filmmaking. For many years theatrical release has not been considered a real option for documentaries, the practical totality of which are produced for and get only the chance to be shown on TV. This seems now to be changing. The audience honours with respectable presence the few documentaries that make it to the theatres. Some distributors are getting aware of this. That is at least what you can observe in Germany, and Europe in general. So after The story of the weeping camel my dream for the future is to be able to make films for the big screen again, that magic surface that makes it possible to show how a rose smells.