During a recent slump in the springtime schedule, I thought I would finally take it upon myself to watch four documentaries I had heard about that feature Mongolia. What better way to look at these documentaries than in Mongolia itself? These opinions are mine and mine alone, and I encourage you to watch the documentaries yourself and make your own judgements! This is part two. Read part one here.
- Babies (2009)
Basic Premise: The film follows the lives of 4 babies and their families. One baby is from Namibia (Near Opuwo), one from Mongolia (Near Bayanchandmani), one from Japan (Tokyo), and one from the United States (San Francisco). You watch them go through their baby years while they do baby things with other babies, their parents, and animals.
What I liked: The story was simple enough that it didn’t need narration. I feel as though some documentaries don’t trust their audiences, and feel they must tell us everything that’s going on, ignoring the fact that the visual cues alone tell us what’s going on.
What I disliked: Not much with this one. I felt it did a fine job telling its story. I’m not sure there’s much re-watchability for me, though. If you really like babies and their antics, I’m sure you could watch it numerous times.
What can you learn about Mongolia: You can see hints of the more traditional herder’s life in all of Bayar’s sections. Most of the time, however, you’ll just see Bayar by his lonesome, doing his thing.
- Genghis Blues (1999)
Basic Premise: A blind musician, Paul Pena, hears a strange singing style on his shortwave radio from the Tuva people, now currently living as part of Russia in a region formerly called the Tuva Republic. Paul meets a Tuva singer, Khongar-ol, at a Central Asian cultural event and shows him his self-taught throat singing. Impressed by Paul’s talents, the man invites Paul to Tuva to participate in a singing competition held once every three years. The story follows Paul’s journey to the Tuva homeland.
What I liked: The music was phenomenal. Definitely worth a listen if you’ve never given throat singing a chance. You also got to hear a lot from the Tuvan people, and they definitely played a larger role in the film than many of the Americans.
What I disliked: At the start, they tended to make Tuva exotic, like it was this faraway, mystical land so different form our own. I tend to dislike when people do that; it feels played out and too old-fashioned travel journalistic to me. Also, since the filmmakers openly admit that they aren’t professional filmmakers, the production quality falls flat at points throughout the film.
What can you learn about Mongolia: This focuses more on Tuva than Mongolia, and the filmmakers take great care to inform the audience that they are different from Mongolians. Nevertheless, learning about the Tuva culture can give you great insights into Mongolia, as they share similar nomadic and musical traditions. Particularly, you learn an insane amount of information about throat singing.