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A Mongolian nomad family find themselves in disagreement when the oldest daughter, Nansal, finds a dog and brings it home. Believing that it is responsible for attacking his sheep, her father refuses to allow her to keep it. When it's time for the family to move on, Nansal must decide whether to defy her father and take her new friend with them. Oscar®-nominated director Byambasuren Davaa's follow up to the hugely successful The Story of the Weeping Camel is a thought-provoking mix of documentary and drama that tells the story of the age-old bond between man and dog, a bond which experiences a new twist through the eternal cycle of reincarnation in Mongolia.

 The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Originally I wanted to be an actress, so I went to drama school in Ullan Batur in Mongolia. One day a TV producer came along looking for a presenter to moderate a childrens’ programme—I got that job. Then I moved on to filmmaking. I was really surprised by the success of The Story of the Weeping Camel. It certainly made funding the second film easier, for what I wanted to do with The Cave of the Yellow Dog was to document my culture that is, of course, in a state of flux, a state of change. I interviewed every member of the team myself and explained to them what it was all about. All the creative people for Cave were from Germany, most were students. Actually at the last minute our sound man from the camel film said that he was a vegetarian, and only announced this on the plane. Being a vegetarian is suicide in Mongolia, but it was far too late at that point. He spent most of his time in bed, because he was usually sick. There was no guarantee that a film would actually come out of it at the end.

The exciting thing is to be in a culture where you don’t understand the language and you are an observer. It’s almost an obsession for me! I like sitting on a bus and watching people and speculating about what goes on in their lives. That’s how I worked with the nomads on the set. Obviously they are not real actors, they are not professional actors. If you get too close to amateur actors, it can be a problem. We didn’t want them to know what was really happening. We were almost secretive about it. For example, with the children playing, we’d let them think that the camera wasn’t on—we didn’t want them to know that we were filming. I tried to fit into their lifestyle and tried not to change the way they lived and the way they did things for the film.

The mother and father have seen the film three times and the mother cried three times. In the scene where you see her on top of the cliff looking down or the little boy with the vultures, those are actually tricks of the camera. But it affected them very deeply, and they said they recognized themselves in the film. Only the five of us watched it the first time and they said, “Yes that’s us.” The next time we watched it in a small town. The film premiered at a proper cinema and there was a reception at the German embassy. The mother was very cool. She was asked about the relationship between herself and the children. She said she had no time to spare and that they grew up on their own, doing their own thing. She couldn’t understand why anyone was interested in them.

I think the film succeeds because Western audiences see themselves in it. We once had the ability to communicate with nature. Somewhere we have these primordial signals within us. And a Western audience can recognize that.