“Weeping Camel” movie about nomadic life on Mongolian steppes

National Geographic made a great film titled “Weeping Camel” if you want to know what life on the nomad’s steppe is like in Mongolia. It could just as well have been filmed in Kazakhstan. It showed several Mongolian families in their yurts and featured one of their camels delivering a baby camel.  It took two days and was a very difficult delivery.  The mother camel rejected her baby that was white, which is rare for camels.  I thought the best line in the film is when someone in the family, an older and wiser person said, “We must find a good violinist” to help with the ritual of getting mother and colt back together.  All is subtitled in English because the conversations are all naturally in Mongolian.

Here is how the movie starts, quote taken from imdb.com:

 Now my children I’ll tell you the story of the weeping camel. Many years ago, God gave antlers to the camel as a reward for the goodness of its heart. But one day a rogue deer came and asked the camel to lend him his antlers. He wanted to adorn himself with them for a celebration in the west. The camel trusted the deer and gave him his antlers, but the deer never brought them back. Since then the camels keep gazing at the horizon and still await the deer’s return.

I’m not sure how National Geographic was able to do the filming but they got a LOT of intimate shots of the children getting bathed, baby girl crying when she was put on a leash inside the yurt next to grandma, sharing meals, etc. We also saw the delivery of the baby camel and how they tried to coerce the mother to return to her baby while the baby camel wailed and moaned.  They had to force feed the baby camel from a horn filled with milk from another mother camel.  Arduous work, best that the mother camel do her job as a mother.

The cutest part is the little Mongolian boy about 5-6 years old wants to ride with his older brother on a camel to the nearby town where they must fetch the musician who will do the ritual.  Remember, they must find a good violinist.  Keep in mind that their violin has only two strings but the same kind of bow that we are used to seeing.  It looks like an er-hu that the Chinese play but is boxy instead.

The little boy can’t even mount the camel by himself.  He is in awe of the television set that people have in more civilized areas.  He asks why they can’t have a t.v. and his older brother’s reply is that they have no electricity in their yurt.  They do buy batteries for their grandfather’s radio which is their only connection to the outside world.

I highly recommend renting or buying this DVD. Though it is slow moving, the photography and the story line are great.  I won’t tell you the ending whether the mother camel and her offspring finally get together. That would be a major spoiler to the whole plot of the movie.  Enjoy the extended family, how they live without any outside interference from the rest of the world.  This gives you a clear picture of what life used to be like in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia.  Life is close to nature with herding sheep, cattle, camels and living off the land.  Simple as that.

6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    batirkhan said,

    This documentary was produced by Germany and Mongolia:

    1. Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München (HFF)
    2. Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) (in association with)
    3. FilmFernsehFonds Bayern (support)
    4. Mongolkino

    Slightly amateurish to my liking, but still hugely enjoyable.

    I also recommend another German-Mongolian co-production, The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005). It is a kind of follow-up to The Story of the Weeping Camel, though filmed in Western Mongolia (where Kazakhs live btw) and not in the Gobi desert.

    I visited Mongolia several times. Mongols are one of the gentlest, kindest and most hospitable peoples I have ever met. Even the non-nomadic city dwellers (approximately 50% of their 2 million population) are obliged to spend at least one month of what they call “country time” each year, i.e. visiting with their nomadic extended family. And they all seem to really enjoy this part of their culture. I guess that is what makes Mongols so unique and humane.

    And by the way, the Mongols call their mobile homes “gers”, not “yurts”.

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    Thanks for the correction about “gers” and not “yurts.” So many things in the film “Weeping Camel” reminded me of Kazakhstan’s nomadic way of life or what it used to be maybe 100 years ago. Not to romanticize it, the wind storm that kicked up and the prevailing loneliness that must have been out in the steppes for those surviving in their little villages or auls.
    Thanks for the recommendation of the second movie to see “The Cave of the Yellow Dog.” I also have one for you to see Jacob’s Ladder where my husband and I helped in a very small way, so our names are in the credits. I have always told my husband that we should go to Mongolia. Maybe one day we will go to visit. Do you have relatives who live in that western part? I have some good stories from my former students about the Kazakhs who ended up in western China and Mongolia.

  3. 3

    Батырхан said,

    Which Jacob’s Ladder, of 1990 with Tim Robbins?

    No relatives in Bayan Ulgii aimag (province) that I know of…

    • 4

      kazaknomad said,

      Sorry, I should have written “Under Jacob’s Ladder” which just came out in the last year or so.

      • 5

        batirkhan said,

        A brand new indie! I like them. I’m a Hollywood hater 🙂 Too bad the movie hasn’t been released on DVD yet from what I understand. Will look out for the title in my local video rental place in a few months I guess.

      • 6

        kazaknomad said,

        I detest the morals that Hollywood pipes down with their Grade B and C movies. The little people in Middle America (or flyover, red states) are NOT buying the garbage that Hollywood is spewing. Bad movies are tanking and good movies are doing better. The consumer is getting the message across to Hollywood directors and I think YouTube and indie films are making their impact as well. I’m sorry to see that all those BAD R-rated movies are making their way to countries that can’t afford the good, wholesome movies. What I saw in Ukraine was a lot of sex and violence and that needs no translation. It is what it is! TERRIBLE!!!

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