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Nomad Meets the City

Former herder Tumurbaatar works tirelessly as a garbage truck driver in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, striving to better his daughter's education and compete in the modern economy. Torn between life in the city and his home and family in a countryside town, the pressures of distance and separation take a toll. A doctor in the countryside, his wife, Tungaa, maintains her roots and helps tend the family herd, as Tumurbaatar’s visits home reveal fault lines in their marriage and identities. They both speak romantically about retiring as true nomads, but she sees what he does not: his nomadic roots are already lost to the city. In spite of it all, they cling fast to dreams for their children to lead lives they cannot.

  • Anji Sauvé Clubb
  • Anji Sauvé Clubb
  • Dulguun Bayasgalan
  • Alice Tabery
    Eva Nova, New Life, Epidemic of Freedom
  • Genres:
    Global, ethnographic, slice of life, Asia, urbanization, migration, Mongolia, nomadism, family, labor, education
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 20 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 20, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    220,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival
    Middlebury, VT
    United States
    August 28, 2021
    North American Premiere
    AICEF Award for Cross-Cultural Filmmaking
  • Socially Relevant Film Festival NYC
    New York City, NY
    United States
    March 20, 2022
    NY Premiere
    Indiepix Vision Award
  • One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
    United States
    March 6, 2020
    Worldwide Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Lund Architecture Film Festival
    October 16, 2022
    Swedish Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Docs Without Borders
    Rehoboth Beach, DE
    United States
    August 13, 2022
    Exceptional Merit in Human Spirit
  • Kansas Arthouse Festival
    Kansas City, KS
    United States
    April 20, 2022
    Best First-time Director
  • Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival (SVAFMF)
    Baltimore, MD
    United States
    November 1, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Balinale Bali International Film Festival
    Denpasar, Bali
    December 8, 2021
    Indonesian Premiere
    AICEF Award for Cross-Cultural Filmmaking
  • Silk Road International Film Festival
    September 15, 2021
    Best Feature
  • cMovie Asia Film Festival
    Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
    December 25, 2020
    Asia Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Architektur.Film.Sommer
    August 24, 2022
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Anji Sauvé Clubb

Anji Sauvé Clubb is the product of eccentric humans who moved from the US to Taiwan and Australia, respectively, where Anji grew up for all of her formative years. Anji's experience attending local schools and learning new cultures cultivated a sensitivity to multicultural and multifaceted perspectives, which eventually led her to filmmaking. Prior to filmmaking, Anji's background is in urban planning and international affairs. She holds a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard University, where she also gained experience in filmmaking, storytelling, and editing. She holds a BA in international relations from Georgetown University and studied documentary filmmaking and production at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Nomad Meets the City is Anji’s first feature-length film. She currently resides in Washington, DC.

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Director Statement

I embarked on this project on a wish and a prayer. Upon graduating with a degree in urban planning and simultaneously realizing I would never be an urban planner, I emptied two retirement accounts, took filmmaking classes at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, purchased equipment, and bought a one-way ticket to Ulaanbaatar. I had no partners or funding – just a couple of contacts, and an idea I couldn’t say no to. I couldn’t say no because Mongolia’s story offers a remarkable and fleeting study in contrasts. The transition from a traditional, rural society to one that is urban, industrial, and globalizing -- that's a shared story of the human race. To see it happening in a culture that is traditionally the polar opposite of settled, urban living -- one whose fabric is that of wide open steppe and free nomadic movement -- is striking and extra-ordinary. Without knowing exactly how I would do it, I felt an irreversible momentum propelling me towards this life project to capture a time and place.

In Mongolia, where I ended up residing for three years, I was fortunate to connect with young, talented people who were interested in capturing this story of urbanization. I spent six months building contacts and eventually forming a team, and we were fortunate to find our charismatic main character, Tumurbaatar, during that time through a local NGO connection. When we were first introduced to Tumurbaatar, we had to meet on the side of the road while he stole a quick break from his shift as a garbage truck driver. My colleague and I came expecting this to be the first of several lengthy conversations before Tumurbaatar would agree to be filmed, however, our conversation went more like this:

Us: "Thanks for meeting with us -- it's great to meet you! We are making a film about people who have moved from the countryside to the city here in Mongolia, and we heard you are originally from the countryside..."

Tumurbaatar: "Yep! Sounds great! Sure, I'll be in your film!"

And that was the start to our production. To ensure fairness to our character, we offered to split any potential profit from the film equally with him and his family. While this may seem extremely generous by industry standards, we felt it was only fair since we'd have nothing without our character opening up his life to us.

Our production team (besides me) was all Mongolian, and after six months of development and securing our character, we received funding from the Swiss and US embassies, Arts Council of Mongolia, an American philanthropist active in Mongolia, and later on through a successful Indiegogo campaign and support from the Jerome Foundation. To secure post-production expertise, we were lucky to find interest in the Czech Republic where we partnered with Cinepoint and i/o post and received funding from the Czech Film Fund to complete the film. We were also fortunate to be selected to participate in HotDocs Dealmaker and IDFAcademy, and our film was one of just 10 documentaries selected for the 2019 Hong Kong Film Financing Forum's Work-in-Progress section.

In the end, the film we painstakingly made over five years with a whole lot of sweat, tears, and perseverance offers an intimate portrait and honest slice-of-life portrayal of a family caught between the city and countryside of present-day Mongolia. In contrast to many other films about Mongolia, we do not romanticize the rural/traditional or vilify the urban/contemporary but rather see life through the eyes of our characters’ own conflicting feelings and perspectives. It is not a black-and-white portrayal, nor is it overly analytical of the larger context. Rather, it is one person's story, a person who is neither here nor there, a flawed hero simply trying to find and make his way in the world. The film succeeds in illuminating a far-away setting, but its most compelling quality is in conveying the remarkable universality of the human experience.

Film Background:
In modern Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we are witnessing a cultural and geospatial transformation unprecedented in Mongolia’s history. At incredible rates, Mongolian society is shifting away from a millennia-old traditional nomadic culture towards a sedentary urban lifestyle and settlement pattern around a globalized economy. After many years of urban migration, roughly half of the country's entire population of 3 million now lives in the capital.

The availability of relatively inexpensive urban land, the prospect of access to better economic opportunities, and extreme cold events (dzuds), have all contributed to mass migration of rural nomads to Ulaanbaatar in recent years. Rapid migration rates have resulted in sprawling, semi-permanent, semi-formal settlements encircling the capital city in areas known as “ger districts”, named after the Mongolian traditional felt tent and housing type – the ger. Here outside the city, instead of overlooking endless steppe and sky, these gers are enclosed by 7-foot-tall rectangular fences, shut in on three sides by neighbors, and accessible only by a labyrinth of potholed dirt roads. The nomad now lives on a grid.

While macro, the phenomenon we are investigating is deeply human and personal. It manifests in the individual through changing attitudes, mentalities, and struggles. Thus, we chose to approach the subject through the lens of the individual. Through the personal story of our main character and his family, we aim to in a small way illuminate a society in flux.