Private Project

Winter Guests

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, Magster, 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.

  • Dominique Snyers
  • Régis Defurnaux
  • Marco Rosano
  • Chloe Phillips-Morris
    Key Cast
  • Annkha
    Key Cast
    "Mother of the Dukha Family"
  • Magster
    Key Cast
    "Father of the Dukha Family"
  • Sumiya
    Key Cast
    "Eldest son"
  • Dawaadorj
    Key Cast
    "Younger son"
  • Sumiya
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Travel, Adventure
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 45 minutes
  • Production Budget:
    95,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Dominique Snyers

Dominique holds a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University, California and a Ph.D. from the University of Caen, France. Successively researcher in Artificial Intelligence, engineering school professor and founders of start-ups, Dominique also launched the Cap Expé association, a community of adventurers formed to encourage them to live out their boldest dreams and above all to embark on such adventures by managing the risks they entail autonomously. For more than 30 years, he has accompanied many young people in their discovery of the great outdoors, both horizontal and vertical.

More recently, he began making films about such adventures in yet another extension of his passion for sharing. His first three films, "The Nahanni Whisperer" , "Altaitude" and "Loic and the Flolopapys" have been shown in numerous festivals around the world. They have received several international awards, including the Best 2020 Climbing Film award at the Kendal Mountain Festival in the UK for "Loic and the Flolopapys".

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Director Statement

The reindeer herders of Mongolia – the Dukha – are usually filmed in summer with a lot of clichés that reflect our own exotic and nostalgic visions more than their actual conditions. They are portrayed as the last of the nomads, even though they have houses in the nearest town to send their children to school; as close to nature, even though smart phones and satellite phones clutter their pockets; as living in harmony with their animals, even though they struggle to keep them alive during increasingly hot summers and cold winters due to climate change that is already affecting the Siberian regions.

Our film is not meant to be an ethnographic study, but a real film with the raw perspective on the reality of pastoralism today and all the challenges these populations are going through. We will focus on transmission and the universal relationship between parents and children. What will Magster and Aankhaa pass on to their children? Dawaadorj, the youngest, is outgoing, Sumiya, the eldest, is more reserved, and Suvda, their daughter, is already trapped in a terribly gendered lifestyle. What do they want to do with their lives compared to what their parents dream for them? What will be left for future generations?

We will follow a Dukha family during winter, something that has rarely been done before, following their transhumance on reindeer backs which is also a first. Entering their habitat, sharing their shamanic rituals is something that will happen in front of the camera because we know them, we respect them, we watch each other from the same shared human condition.

This film project is unique, original, committed, ethical and relevant. It takes us into the intimacy of a Dukha family that we got to know over the four seasons, which has never been done before. We film from their perspective and through the bond we have with them: on reindeer, on horseback, in the teepee, in the snow, on the ice, in the rain, in the city. Entering their habitat, sharing their lives, their questions, their worries: witnessing firsthand the relationship between parents and children – with the reindeer « in the middle ». We film on a human level, without effects, dynamic and close, with just a few aerial shots to cast these relationships into the vastness of the taiga.