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NEW YORK, NY, USA - Italian-born, Berlin-based film student Luigi Falorni never planned to become a camel expert or anthropological documentarian of life in Mongolia. Yet, thanks to his friend and co-director Byambasuren Davaa, he managed to spend a spring in South Mongolia's Gobi Desert, become friends with a family of local shepherds and learn a lot about camels (especially the females) and the traumas suffered when birthing the next generation.
In making this 87 minute film, "The Story of the Weeping Camel," Falorni and his partner established a narrative thread and a touching story by telling about unusual problems between the mother camel and her rare white colt. Despite the shepherds' efforts, the mother rejects her newborn, refusing it her milk and her motherly love. As the problem is solved -- music soothes the savage beast or reluctant camel -- we experience the life of these Mongolian nomads while they are searching for a resolution.
Though almost pure documentary (some scenes are restaged and shot [as] though [they] had actually happened), the story proceeds with a subtle, yet dramatic progression that grabs an audience without trying too hard. Certainly, this doc hit home with the programmers of the New Directors, New Films Festival; it debuted here earlier this year and is now in general release.
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G21: DID WORKING WITH CAMELS GIVE YOU PROBLEMS?
LUIGI FALORNI: I think they are wonderful. I have a lot of respect for them and I know to give them their space. And I don't get too close to them at certain moments. I let them get used to [the] camera; it took about a week for them to get used to the camera so I approached them with cautiousness and eventually the were comfortable with us.
G21: HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH THE MOTHER CAMEL, ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU WERE FILMING HER PREGNANT AND GIVING BIRTH.
LUIGI FALORNI: She could be mean.. being pregnant with her child she was stressed out until the end. Our camera assistant fell in love with one brown youngster. He started at two meters, then one meter and then by the end of the shoot he was hugging it.
G21: HOW DID YOU FIND THAT DRAMATIC MOMENT?
LUIGI FALORNI: From the very beginning, we started to merge documentary with feature film techniques. We started with a fairly detailed story treatment and then searched for the right family. The one we found put in their own ideas and experience. That helped develop story. We also changed the original treatment -- a growing together integration. Every night we sat [and] thought about what did we get today; what didn't we get and what did we want from our original treatment. So we thought about how we can integrate these new parts. Whatever we did not foresee we put into the story and then planned the shoot for next day based [on] what happened the day before. Though the story was not made of invented events and everything happened just as it happened -- the protagonists were also real -- we were lucky that it formed into a story [that] gave us a narrative.
G21: YOU HAD A GREAT LOOK WITH THIS FILM„ESPECIALLY FOR A DOCUMENTARY.
LUIGI FALORNI: We shot in film and that gave the film a fairy tale touch. If we shoot in video it would be too hard and realistic-feeling. With film you can get the feel of another time, a more poetic touch that is hard to achieve with video -- j ust looks too concrete.
G21: WHAT WAS BEHIND THE DECISION TO MAKE THIS FILM?
LUIGI FALORNI: Some people thought we were insane. To make our thesis like this It wasn't that easy for two students to go to the Gobi and make a film about camels and about someone playing and singing for them. That did not sound so normal but we tried to make our proposal realistic and be something that was possible. We managed to get funding because my co-director was from there and she knew something about the story from the childhood rituals she learned. For me it was not that much about it being exotic, though I did want to go there and meet the people.
But we were not making a strictly ethnographic film -- my other projects are different -- but what intrigued me was the universal reach of the story.
Metaphorically, it had the power to appeal to any of us; it's a story of salvation, of loss of love and of finding it again. Its about surviving in the desert; the desert is such a metaphor for life anyhow. That's what we went searching for -- not to show a nice landscape, or [to] shoot postcards and give detailed descriptions of how they live anthropologically -- but to show something about life that anyone can relate to.
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