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Jessica Woodworth • Director

"Bringing the sky down..."

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- For more than ten years, they travelled the length and breadth of the Mongolian steppes. Now the documentary makers have successfully turned their hand to feature production

Jessica Woodworth • Director

Winner of the Lion of the Future award at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens’s Khadak [+see also:
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interview: Jessica Woodworth
interview: Jessica Woodworth
film profile
]
is the story of "a nomad boy with a very unusual destiny, that of becoming a shaman, but who rejects this and eventually brings the sky down, restoring a little balance in this weak society".

Cineuropa: Khadak is your debut feature. How did you take the plunge?
Jessica Woodworth: Quite naturally, really. We originally wanted to make a documentary on aviation and socialism in Mongolia. But having worked there, we felt very frustrated because we realised we would never manage to fit everything into a format suitable for public broadcasters. We had a lot more freedom in the feature to capture this tension.

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Do you mean the tension between culture and the barbarous destruction of the country?
Mongolia is a country in transition, weakened by large mining companies and a corrupt government. Today, the country is selling itself. Mind you, we are not against the mines and development. You just have to understand to what point and at what price the environment can be exploited. There was a quite harmonious relationship between earth, animal and man in the steppes – a family. In the second part, this mother is working in the mine and she is willing to adapt. The grandfather is no longer able to talk and the boy has to deal with his destiny on his own. All that can be felt in the story, this danger that exists in the country. Politically, the film is quite thought-provoking. While all that is done subtly, for a Mongolian viewer it is very clear.

Did you work with the Mongols on the script? Three friends – a journalist, a writer and a film producer – read each version, gave us their feedback and helped us to formulate the main part of the dialogue. Mongols express themselves in very few words, preferring to use silences. At the time of shooting, we worked a lot with actors to find dialogues that best expressed what was happening in the scene; the insinuations. It was also about respecting the audience. The viewer has to get involved, to work at figuring out the meaning of the story. It is not a popcorn film, and we never set out to do that. It’s a film you have to go and see several times. But of course the first time you see it it has to be moving and sacred.

Is that where the title, which calls for a return to sacredness, comes from?
When we presented the film at Venice the boy who plays the lead role was there. When we invited him on stage to share his first impressions of the film, he said: "My people are suffering, my country is sick and this film has to work like a khadak to save and protect my people". We also made this film with and for the Mongols; we didn’t go there to film beautiful scenery.

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