for National Geographic News
Among the nomads of Mongolia's Gobi desert, camels provide life's necessities. Camel hair is woven into clothing. Dried camel droppings fuel fires. Camel milk serves as a dietary staple. Shoes and saddles are fashioned from camel hides.
Wealth is measured in part by the number of camels a person owns. So when a camel mother rejects a newborn colt, the nomads take the rejection very seriously.
In keeping with an ancient ritual, a musician must be summoned to perform a ceremony. The rite aims to coax the camel mother into nursing her baby. If the mother accepts the baby, legend has it that the ritual causes her to weep with joy.
The ritual is at the heart of The Story of the Weeping Camel, a docudrama about a family of Mongolian herders who face a crisis when a camel rejects her newborn.
Now in release, the film has been an audience favorite at film festivals. It is the first film to be distributed under the new National Geographic World Films label.
"It's the story of salvation, of the loss of love and the struggle to win it back," said Luigi Falorni, the film's Italian co-director. "I believe each one of us has gone through the same as the little starving camel at some point in life: feeling estranged, unceasingly searching for protection and needing to belong. [The baby camel's] fate is evidence that no life is possible without love."
The idea for the film came to Falorni when he was a student at the Munich Film School in Germany and was searching for a subject for his graduation film. At the time, a fellow student, Byamabasuren Davaa, told Falorni about an educational documentary on a music ritual involving camels, which she had seen as a child in Mongolia.
"The simplicity and beauty of that ritual struck me right away," Falorni said. He quickly decided to travel to Mongolia with Davaa to shoot a documentary about the ritual.
Camel birthing in Gobi only takes place in March each year.
During a research trip, the filmmakers found the ideal subjects for their film: a herder family of four generations living in the same ger, the colorful tent that nomads use. The family owned 60 camels, 20 of them pregnant.
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