But when Falorni and Davaa returned to Mongolia to produce their documentary, the pair got stuck in a wild snowstorm in Ulaan Baatar, the capital. When they finally arrived at the nomads' ger, most of the family's camels had already been delivered.
The story seemed to have collapseduntil the very last birth. The baby turned out to be white, not brown, a one in ten chance. When the colt's mother rejected it, the filmmakers knew they had their story.
Weeping With Joy
As the mother kept walking away from the colt, the baby wouldn't stop crying, even if someone tried to feed it a bottle. The camel wouldn't develop without its mother's milk, and eventually it would probably die from starvation.
A violinist was summoned from the nearest settlement. Then the family began to sing near the mother and baby, while the violinist played. There are no lyrics to the traditional song, just a repetition of the letters H-O-O-S. The word does not have a meaning, but is meant to have a soothing effect.
The most significant moment during the ritual is when the mother camel signals her acceptance of her baby by weeping real tears. Falorni says that moment captures the message of the film.
"The nomads' message to the Westerner through this film is: Never give up on life, no matter if it's a little camel, a child, or a friend," he said. "Solidarity and care for one another not only make life possible in the desert, but [also] make life much richer."
The film is known as a "narrative documentary," combining unstaged sequences with recreations. Falorni and Davaa actually developed a fairly detailed script, then integrated whatever unexpected incidents occurred into the storyline.
"Our protagonists are real nomads from Gobi who 'played' before the camera the same roles they have in real life," he said.
One challenge the filmmakers faced, Falorni noted, was how to explain to audience members that a brown camel can give birth to a fair-skinned, white one. "As it turned out, its different color was beneficial to the film," Falorni said. "It makes the little baby stand out in the camel herd even more, like a real outsider."
Land of the Blue Sky
Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is on a plateau with an average elevation of 5,180 feet (1,580 meters). Natural beauty abounds; the country is called the "Land of the Blue Sky," because it enjoys over 250 sunny days a year.
Yet that moniker belies an extreme climate in which temperatures range from 90 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the summer to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius) in winter. Devastating storms sometimes kill animals by the tens of thousands.
"The desert is a wonderful place for a vacation, but it can get quite frustrating if you're there shooting a film," Falorni said. The filmmaker encountered winds blowing at up to 150 kilometers an hour (90 miles an hour). "We often had to stop shooting because the wind was making sound recording impossible. We were able to work only 23 of the 35 days planned for shooting."
The filmmakers immersed themselves in the world of the nomads. In most of Mongolia, rainfall is scarce and unreliable, making agriculture difficult. Thus the nomads still travel, as they have for centuries, in search of pastures to sustain their animals.
Mongolia's population density is a sparse four people per square mile (2.6 square kilometers).
But the number of rural residents is decreasing. Urban areas, like Ulaan Baatar, have seen booming growth in recent years. Today, Mongolia's younger generation faces the choice of upholding the old traditions of herding and living in the desert or migrating to the nation's cities.
Falorni says Mongolia's nomadic lifestyle has unique qualities.
"They are a remarkably self-sufficient people, producing all they need for life by themselves," he said. "They don't think about money. They cherish nature, because they depend on it. And they have a very strong connection to their animals. They understand that we, as humans, have to adjust and not the other way around. That is the philosophy of the nomads."
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