© Régis Defurnaux

Why are we making this film?


The film tells the story of an unlikely encounter in the dead of winter, in northern Mongolia. Magsar and Ankhaa raise their children with their reindeer in remote valleys on the border with Siberia. They have invited Chloe and Dominique to spend part of the winter with them. It is the first time they had welcomed guests in winter. Inside the camp’s only tent, huddled around a red-hot stove, different visions of the world collide. On the one hand, there is the fascination and unease of three Westerners witnessing this disappearing nomadic way of life. On the other, the herders, tied to modernity with their satellite phones, solar panels and chainsaws, wonder at this infernal circus of tourists visiting them.

But in winter, all stereotypes fade away, dissolved in the gestures of common survival. How to melt snow ? How to eat and sleep in a crowded tepee in the deadly cold of -22°F (-30°C)? How to survive the bite of winter and of the wolves? Only the essential remains: the universal affection of a father for his two sons, who are about to live their own lives and make their own choices; the universal bond between animal and human societies as they merge their destinies in an unforgiving environment.

Magsar and Ankha had worked hard to secure a future for their children. Thanks to them, they now have a choice: to remain part of the Great White Steppe, or to leave for an uncertain future elsewhere – in a city. From now on, the choice is theirs. Magsar and Ankhaa know this and will respect their individual decisions.

A unique perspective

The reindeer herders of Mongolia – the Dukhas – are usually filmed in the summer with many clichés that reflect our own exotic and nostalgic visions more than their actual conditions. They are portrayed as the last of the nomads, even though they have houses in the nearest town to send their children to school; as close to nature, even though smartphones and satellite phones clutter their pockets; as living in harmony with their animals, even though they struggle to keep them alive in increasingly hot summers and cold winters due to climate change, which is already affecting the Siberian regions.

Our film is not meant to be an ethnographic study, but a real film with a raw perspective on the reality of pastoralism today and all the challenges these populations face. We will focus on transmission and the universal relationship between parents and children. What will Magsar and Ankhaa pass on to their children? Dawaadorj, the youngest, is outgoing, Sumiya, the eldest, is more reserved, and Suvda, their daughter, is already trapped in a terribly gendered lifestyle. What do they want to do with their lives compared to what their parents dream for them? What will be left for future generations?

We follow a Dukha family through winter, something that has rarely been done before, following their transhumance on the backs of reindeer and sleeping in their unique tepee by -22°F (-30°C).  We film from their perspective and through the bond that we have built with them as we go through the same harsh winter conditions: on the reindeer,  in the teepee, in the snow, on the ice, in the rain, in the city. Entering their habitat, sharing their lives, their questions, their worries: witnessing at first-hand the relationship between parents and children – with the reindeer “in the middle”. We film on a human level, without effects, dynamic and close, with just a few aerial shots to cast these relationships into the vastness of the taiga.