Deep in the Taiga, Mongolian Reindeer Herders



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Film Synopsis

Chloe is a horse whisperer. She works with the wild horses of the Kaimanawa Ranges in New Zealand. For many years, she has been leading horse, camel and reindeer expeditions to many remote locations. In her quest to understand and document traditional husbandry practices, she developed a close relationship with a Mongolian family of the Dukha ethnic group, the last reindeer herders in Mongolia. She has visited them many times, but never in the winter, when temperatures drop so low that the family must separate. The mother, Aankha, stays in the valley so the children can go to school. The father, Magser, and the two oldest teenagers keep their herds on the hills, where they can feed on lichen, almost safe from the wolves. This year, they insisted that Chloé spend part of the winter with them.

Accompanied by Regis and Dominique, award-winning documentary photographer and filmmaker respectively, she stays with the herd on the hills. Huddled around the stove, reddened by the flames, in the winter camp’s only tent, two different visions of the world collide. On the one hand, there is the fascination and unease of three Westerners witnessing this disappearing nomadic way of life. On the other, the herders, tied to modernity with their satellite phones, solar panels and chainsaws, wonder at this infernal circus of tourists visiting them.

But in winter, all stereotypes fade away, dissolved in the gestures of common survival. How to melt snow? How to eat and sleep in a crowded teepee in the deadly cold of -22°F (-30°C)? How to survive the bite of winter and wolves? Only the essential remains: the universal affection of a father for his two sons, who are about to live their own lives and make their own choices; the universal bond between animal and human societies as they merge their destinies in an unforgiving environment. After all, they are all winter guests.

Magser and Aankha had worked hard to secure a future for their children. Thanks to them, they now have a choice: to remain part of the Great White Steppe, or to leave for an uncertain future elsewhere – in a city. From now on, the choice is theirs. Magser and Aankhaa know this and will respect their individual decisions.

Chloe Phillips-Harris

Horse trainer & writer

Regis Defurnaux

Documentary photographer