A full week of amazing film in Mongolia

Local news, 06.11.2023

The Arts Council of Mongolia, in partnership with the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar and with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, successfully organized the 15th Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival (UBIFF). Each year, UBIFF becomes a momentous arts event, introducing national and international artistic excellence and cultural diversity to a Mongolian audience, especially youth. 

Ulaanbaatar 15th International Film Festival
Ulaanbaatar 15th International Film Festival ©SDC


Excitement for this year's UBIFF started quite early. Last May, director P. Zoljargal's film "If Only I Could Hibernate" was selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, marking a new page in the history of Mongolian filmmaking. Soon after, in September, director P. Lkhagvadulam's film " The City of Wind" was selected for the Venice Film Festival, and the film’s star won the Orizzonti Best Actor award. UBIFF audience expectations were high to see these two Mongolian films that had successfully participated in international film festivals. The 15th Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival opened with " The City of Wind", enjoyed by an audience of over 1,500 people, and "If Only I Could Hibernate" was presented during the Mongolian Film Section later in the week.

One of the goals of any film festival is to support local artists by showcasing the best works and organizing workshops. Director P. Lkhagvadulam worked with an international team and touched on the topic of shamanism, which might seem strange to a foreigner. Mongolians live in difficult conditions in terms of weather. Summers are short, winters are long and cold, the economy is weak, and politicians are fraudulent. But all these hardships are overcome, starting from the climate to social and economic challenges, and every winter is welcomed, no matter how cold it may be, without losing hope and trusting in a brighter future. Perhaps the character of Ze from “The City of Wind” is the spirit in all of us, understanding the importance of being close to one another and continuing to overcome these hardships. P. Lkhagvadulam emphasized that she wanted her film to show the burdens being carried by the youth of Mongolia.

Director P. Zoljargal opened the first screening of her film in Mongolia by saying, "We don't breathe smoke; we breathe the poverty of our brothers and sisters… Quality education will lift us out of poverty, but education is not equal and accessible," which made the audience emotional before the film started.

It is interesting that two films by two female directors from the same generation focused on the lives of teenagers living in ger areas on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. The films were shot in the autumn and were destined to start a new chapter in the history of Mongolian filmmaking. “If Only I Could Hibernate" boldly and openly shows the increasing disparities in Mongolian society. Although the topic is not new in Mongolian art, it has rarely been shown in this way at the level of social criticism. In particular, it should be emphasized that the film’s director carefully observed the details of life in the ger district and reflected every bit of it in her work. The scene in the film when a khoroo (community) clerk distributes anti-smoke filters to children who do not have fuel, and the narration of the characters having “old heads on young shoulders,” saying that they were hanging in there with Child Money allowances, made the audience tear up. As the winter months approach, have you already had some thoughts about the thousands of children who are shivering in the bitter cold despite being worried about the smoke?


For the first time, UBIFF expanded from one theatre to three. Films were simultaneously shown in three different theatres, and all the films in the International Film section were screened twice. This indicates how the UBIFF has grown broader in scope over the past 15 years, and the audience size has been increasing year by year.

The most anticipated film for this year's UBIFF was "Anatomy of a Fall", directed by Justine Triet, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This courtroom drama shows how misunderstandings in the lives of modern couples can escalate and end in tragedy.

A film that cannot be left without praise in the International Film section was "About Dry Grasses" by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Nuri created a unique and complex film that has not been seen recently. It includes all possible topics in one film through the story of a male teacher from Istanbul moving to a rural village. He hates the backward attitudes in the countryside and dreams of city life. The film tells a story of moral decline and rebellion, his emotions, his love for Turkey, Turkey’s social and political conditions, and what it is to be human.


This year, the UBIFF partnered with Nyon, Switzerland’s Visions du Réel documentary film festival. For the first time, the UBIFF included a Documentary Film section in its program, which is expected to greatly help the development of Mongolian documentary filmmaking. Three documentary films were presented: the premiere of "While the Green Grass Grows", an epic diary of life and death made by Peter Mettler from footage of his parents' last moments; Kaouther Ben Hania's "Four Sisters", based on the real-life story of two missing girls in Tunisia, recreated with professional actors, interestingly poised at the edge of fiction and documentary; and "The Lost Boys of Mercury", based on the memories of elders who spent their childhoods amid violence in the French Catholic Church. Peter Mettler’s " While the Green Grass Grows" was a highlight of this section, seen as a meditative, melodious, fantasy-like film.

The partnership between the UBIFF and Switzerland was not limited to the Documentary Film section. Every year, another country can present its films as the focus country, as was the case for South Korea and Turkey in previous years. This year, Switzerland was the focus country. On the second day of the film festival, only Swiss films were screened, including "Let Me Go", " Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry", and "Retreat".


As in previous years, the film festival included special sessions for discussion and training for emerging filmmakers. This part is of special importance to SDC, as it focuses on youth capacity building. We were very happy to witness great interest in attending the workshops and discussions. Oswald Schwander, a Swiss artist with over 30 years of experience in soundtracks and sound design for major European studios, led and moderated the Avdraa Uudal (Search Your Chest), a three-day training on film scores. The forum discussion The Coming Time was organized on Reasons for Choosing Documentary Films and Our Times in Films. Filmmaker N. Uranchimeg gave a presentation on the history of Mongolian documentaries. L. Nomin, director of the documentary "Khurd Ergelkhed” (“The Wheel”), shared her experience at Visions du Réel in Switzerland. Sophie Bourdon, director of cooperation of the 54th Visions du Réel film festival, gave a presentation for Reasons for Choosing Documentary Films, and producer Gugi Gumilang discussed International Documentary Film Festivals and the Market. Film industry and social science researchers such as filmmaker S. Byamba, UBIFF International Artistic Director Anne Delseth, UBIFF International Programmer Thibaut Bracq, and Vietnamese director Tien Pham, whose first work was presented at UBIFF, took part in the Our Times in Films discussion, which included Mongolian films.

The 15th UBIFF ended with a week full of emotions, impressions, and insights into worlds we may not have known until now. Each of us enjoyed new experiences. Let us meet again next year with more excitement, more films, and more audience goes.

For more information, please visit UBIFF website