The Story of the Weeping Camel: Legend or Truth?
Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni's "The Story of the Weeping Camel." Courtesy of

The Story of the Weeping Camel: Legend or Truth?

A miraculous true story about love, hope, family unity and man-animal relations has all the elements of a fairy tale in a desert far, far away.

By Alicia Srinivas

Click here for the preview of The Story of the Weeping Camel as Mongolia's submission for the 2004 Academy Award Best Foreign Film category

In our modern world of cell phones, computers, and MP3 players, it is almost impossible for us to conceive of the primitive lifestyle portrayed in The Story of the Weeping Camel, directed by film students Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni. 

This documentary film, which is set in the harsh Gobi Desert of Southern Mongolia, follows a family of nomads whose lives revolve around their livestock of camels, sheep, and goats. The camera acts only as an observer of the events that transpire and the film's pace is consistent with the group's relaxed lifestyle. It is obvious that the family's lives literally revolve around the camels, from their clothing to their food. They, therefore, treat them with utmost respect, affection, and patience.

The story takes place during the season of camel-births. A baby camel is born in the middle of the night and by the next day, the mother is happily nursing it. However, the crisis begins when another camel has an excruciating three-day labor. The family must help her in delivering what turns out to be a healthy but rare white colt. Nevertheless, she rejects her defenseless offspring.

As the days go on, the family tries different techniques to encourage the mother to accept her son - tying her hind legs with rope to prevent her from kicking him as she feeds. While they manage to feed the colt milk through a bull-horn, the family knows the helpless baby won't survive long without its mother's love. 

The colt's behavior provokes deep sympathy. It is constantly crying out heart-wrenching whimpers, it chases its mother incessantly, and even is kicked while trying to get milk. The worst is watching him weather a severe sandstorm alone and unprotected. 

The juxtaposition between the rejected colt and the other affectionate mother-son pair exhibits a distressing disparity. The other camel protectively guards her baby and patiently shrugs him off as he playfully bites her.

When the community has exhausted all of their options and the situation gets desperate, they resort to performing an ancient ritual. When the grandfather says, “We'll need a good violinist," one is naturally inclined to smirk at their superstition while at the same time feel disheartened that the little colt is doomed.

Nevertheless, the family sends their two boys, Dude and the adorable 5-year-old Ugna, on a journey to the nearest commercial center which is more than 50 kilometers away. The boys are accommodated and fed along the way by other nomadic people. 

While the commercial center can hardly be called a city, it actually has some motorcycles, cars, and even televisions and the disparity between the boys' home and the village becomes strikingly obvious. 

Dude and Ugna set out in search of a musician to help them perform their ritual. The violinist agrees to come and help the family within the next few days. The boys return home with batteries for their grandpa's ancient radio and tales of the glass box with moving pictures which has become the latest object of Ugna's fascination.

When the musician arrives, the entire tribe gathers around the stubborn camel and her youngster while Odgoo sings to the violinists' tune. The climax literally leaves you speechless with wonder and awe while the villagers look pleased, but not the least bit surprised. As things return to their normal order for the nomads, the viewer can't help but wonder if they just witnessed a miracle. This is actually part of the cinematic miracle of Davaa and Falorni's successful attempt to capture the unraveling of these real-life incidents, making their student project a wondrous docu-drama based on an exceptionally unique humanitarian subject.

The film is a beautiful accomplishment that takes you on a journey through a world that seemingly defies modernity. The Story of the Weeping Camel was made by THINKFilm in association with National Geographic and has been submitted for nomination for this year's Academy Awards Best Foreign Film.

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