MIGRATION IMMERSES THE VIEWER IN THE ARDUOUS JOURNEY DUKHA REINDEER HERDERS EMBARK ON EACH YEAR TRAVELING THROUGH MONGOLIA’S PRISTINE WILDERNESS TO REACH THEIR SUMMER ENCAMPMENT.
“Reindeer get restless and begin to move on to other pastures. When they start moving, we follow,” explains nomad Tsetsegmaa.
To the Dukhas of Mongolia, reindeer are the core of their existence. They are ridden, packed with goods, milked, and, when needed, honored and sacrificed for food. Migration travels with the nomads in their annual journey from their spring camp in the taiga forest to their summer camp in the tundra in order to provide rich pasture for the reindeer. When the director observed the loss of a nomadic life in another area of Mongolia, she felt compelled to document the Dukha while they still migrate. In this documentary no directions were given. No action was staged or manipulated. This immersion film preserves the unique lives and lifestyles of reindeer herders just as they exist today.
As the film opens inside an urts or Siberian tipi at the spring camp, the viewer feels transported to a different world, watching like a “fly on the wall”, a more relaxed way of life. Candid conversations are overheard through subtitles; no explanations are provided. The pace is slowed to that of the Dukha community, bringing their age-old traditions to life.
This experiential film shows the traditional aspects of reindeer husbandry, and yet, the viewer will note contemporary goods. A satellite dish, solar panels, televisions, and chainsaws bring this ancient lifestyle into the modern world. The herders still travel on reindeer and use their reindeer for moving modern items as well as their bedding, dishes, wash pans, stoves, and clothing. The most important goal of their lives remains the same as their ancestors: to share their lives with reindeer.
Mongolia is the largest pristine wilderness in the world, with vast landscapes of snowcapped mountains and ice-covered rivers, even in summer. Tuvan music by the Alash Ensemble accompanies the migration—Dukhas, the smallest ethnic group of Mongolia, are of Tuvan descent. The herders’ journey travels through forests and rivers, into valleys and over high mountains studded with slippery lichen-covered rocks. During changes in altitude, the weather ranges from hot to rainy, cold, snowy, and windy as they traverse frozen, snowy, soggy, and muddy landscapes. They travel on their reindeer, known for their ability to travel easily over the extreme terrain.
Dukhas seem lighthearted as they provide for their family’s basic needs in all settings. Whether they are building shelter, making food, carrying water, or finding wood for heating and cooking, families help each other. In the community, men have responsibilities outside the urts—herding, preparing skins, collecting firewood, and hunting. Women work inside of the urts caring for the children, cooking, and sewing. It is also their job to milk the reindeer, carry water, and make milk tea, cheese, and other milk products. The same basic chores need to be carried out whether the herders are in the spring camp, an overnight camp, or the summer camp. Home is wherever they are.
“Migration” flows—there is a sense that moving is like breathing for the Dukha. The journey through harsh and expansive landscape is no deterrent for the strong and resilient herders and their reindeer. This film preserves the lives of one of the few groups still migrating on the planet today. It is an unaltered snapshot of the life of nomads who remain at one with their animals and the land.