Mongolian film director Zoljargal Purevdash’s “If Only I Could Hibernate” made history this week at the Cannes Film Festival by becoming the first Mongolian film shown in the Cannes’ official selection. It became one of several dozen chosen out of around 2,000 films submitted to the festival and will now be eligible for several award competitions. The film entered into the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival, which features original and diverse stories from around the world.
“If Only I Could Hibernate” tells the story of a 15-year-old Mongolian boy Ulzii, who lives in the ger (yurt) district in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. Ulzii excels in physics, and his teacher encourages him to enter a national physics competition so he can win a scholarship to attend one of the best schools in the country. The family struggles financially after his father passes away and his alcohol-addicted mother cannot find a job.
Here is the film's trailer, posted to its official Facebook page.
Баавгай Болохсон УСК эхний трэйлерийг хүлээн авна уу 🐻Enjoy the first trailer of IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE 🐾🐻#amygdalafilms #urbanfactory #urbansales #eurozoom#mongolian_fintech_group #swiss_cooperation_in_mongolia#lantuun_dohio_ngo #id_shidiin_oron #paris_regional_fund #CNC_centre_national_du_cinema_et_de_limage_animee#doha_film_institute #bambaz_photography #shine_mongol_school #kite_mongolia #mongolia_education_foundation #talents_tokyo #next_masters_support_program#korea_standart_llc #usp_mongolia_llc#hongkong_asia_filmfinancingforum #opendoors_locarnofilmfestival #torinofilmlab_extended #routes_nomades #australian_embassy_in_mongolia #motion_picture_association #hibernate_donaters#баавгайболохсон #ifonlyicouldhibernate #hibernate #amygdalafeatures
Posted by Баавгай Болохсон If Only I Could Hibernate on Monday, May 22, 2023
Ulzii’s academic plans change when his mother moves to the countryside in search of work and leaves him and his two younger siblings to fend for themselves. His hopes of a better future are undermined by the risky logging job he takes to provide his family with food and fuel to survive the harsh winter. The film’s name comes from a quote by his siblings, who say they wish they could hibernate through the winter like bears and not worry about keeping themselves warm.
The film reflects Purevdash’s personal experiences. Her mom operated a shop in the ger district. She recounts seeing “many different kinds of people [living in the ger district] — some were nomads, some living in difficult situations, some parents buying alcohol for themselves, but no food for their kids, just a few cheap candies.” When discussing her motivation for the film, she adds, “I always wanted to create something for those innocent little children, to tell them a story that would make them happy, or to give them hope.”
Here is an interview with the film's director Zoljargal Purevdash.
Besides giving hope and inspiring the underprivileged youth, the film tackles one of Ulaanbaatar’s biggest issues — air pollution. Since the ger districts are not connected to the city’s heating system, its residents resort to burning coal to keep themselves warm during long and harsh winters, when the temperature can drop to -30 degrees Celsius. About 60 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s 1.5 million population lives in ger districts, and they are often blamed for the city's significant air pollution. Purevdash’s goal is to build connection and understanding among different groups and show that nobody in the ger district is burning coal to intentionally harm others. “I wanted my fellow citizens to understand, feel and embrace the struggles and the joys of one another,” she explains.
The film’s success is poised to kickstart a new era in Mongolia's filmmaking industry. And the government is ready to contribute. In 2022, it established the Mongolian National Film Council and Mongolian Film Fund, which allow filmmakers to receive up to 45 percent of the filming costs for projects produced in Mongolia with minimum spending of USD 500,000. “If Only I Could Hibernate” was Purevdash’s first film. With the new support system being erected around the local film industry, she plans to make more films in the future. With an impressive first-time debut like this, everyone will be watching for her next film.