Byamba (Dorjsambuu Dambii) is talking to an unseen Sarah as he treks through the snow to go to school near his Mongolian village. He talks of the cold winter ahead of a flashback to the summer before. We see the Dambii homestead consisting of two large hexagonal yurts. Patriarch Dambii tends to the goats and sheep while his wife Tsetsegee (Ankhnyam Ragchaa) does the milking. The youngest son Ulaanaa (Sharavdorj Dambii ) runs around as a bundle of energy while the eldest Uuganaa (Dorj Dambii) is much more reserved. The Naadam holiday race and festival is on the horizon bringing the best horse trainer Bold recruiting Uuganaa to ride his fastest horse. Byamba is upset because he likes horses more but at 9 is a year too young to ride in the race.
The Mongolian countryside is a major character in the film. The crew used drones for the sweeping overhead shots and cranes to mount and enhance the sound. The shooting of the horse racing across the countryside is unique. The production mixes real time, slow motion and stop motion shooting to produce a multi-layered end product. Director Zolbayar Dorj went to an isolated area outside of a remote small town in Western Mongolia for the authentic spot to shoot the racing.
The subplot features Sarah (Brittany Belt) a humanitarian worker who has come to Outer Mongolia to pass along safety equipment to the children riders that enter these dangerous 25 kilometer races. She is passionate about her objective but the locals are resistant wanting to keep the traditional ways and not this new hard plastic costume. Her contact Mayor Sundui does not distribute the safety equipment to the children making a comedic moment when she pops by his yurt catching him in the act.
The cast features many nonactors. The three main brothers 12-8- and 4 respectively are all brothers from a local town. Sarah's translator Delgermaa (Normin Davaasuren) is a local singer cast due to her knowledge of English. Batmend Baast as the patriarch Dambii shows the most grown next to Byamba in the film. He stoic refusing to train any horses at the outset. His reasoning dates back to an incident when his father was still alive and their legendary speed horse Beauty. Dambii feels pressure from the villagers and his middle son who begins to train a horse on his own forcing his father back into the game.
Children of Genghis is a study of a people that live a full life focusing on the simple things. They have their horses, farm animals, archery, and wrestling. They have tea and snacks ready for any friend or stranger that comes to visit. Director Dorj uses local no actors in key role giving the piece an authentic feel that rings true. They are steeped in their traditional way passed down through the generations. But are willing to embrace new ways slowly if they will help the individual or the community as a role.
**** Out of 4.
Children of Genghis | Zolbayar Dorj | Mongolia | 2017 | 101 minutes.
Tags: Sweating Horses, F.I.D., Mongolia, Naadam Holiday, Candy, Pact, Yurt , Motorcycle.