A stunning short film shows what life is like for a centuries-old nomadic community.

'You can get internet literally anywhere these days.'

"There is 3G service in even the most remote places," Brandon Li explained.

It sounds like I'm quoting a cellphone commercial, but Li's actually a filmmaker. He recently spent a month in the vast grasslands of Mongolia.


Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

In his visually stunning short film "Nomads of Mongolia," he shows us what life, work, and play look like for the Kazakh shepherds who've roamed those lands for centuries — and how it's changing.

Believe it or not, "most of the nomads have cellphones," Li says.

The Diplomat wrote that it's the only way for parents to keep tabs on their children who live in cities. But the cellphone isn't the only sign of modernity entering nomadic life.

Photo by Ansley Sawyer, used with permission.

Ansley Sawyer, a producer on the film, added, "Instead of shepherding on horseback, it's sometimes easier to herd by motorcycle." She also noted that while the nomads once relied on livestock-drawn carriages to move their camps, today they use Jeeps and trucks.

"I'll never forget watching an eagle hunter climb on top of his Russian Jeep to get better reception and to update his Facebook," said Sawyer. "You can get internet literally anywhere these days."

But the ways of the old world are still alive (not the least badass of which is the aforementioned eagle hunting).


"A massive, deadly parakeet." Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"[One] thing that surprised me was the day-to-day experience of having a pet eagle," said Li. "To the nomads, it's just a part of the household — like a massive, deadly parakeet. Once the winter arrives, it gets to stretch its wings and hunt."

(You should definitely watch the video at the bottom to see one in action.)

As the modern world shapes their way of life, one thing never changes for these nomads: their love of family.

"Everyone's focus is to strengthen and support the family," said Sawyer. And amid the desolation of the Mongolian steppe, that focus is as sharp as their eagles' sight.

From family values to a reliance on the natural world, we can find reflections of ourselves even in the middle of nowhere.

Even younger family members who leave for cities like Ulaanbaatar for education and work keep strong connections to home.


Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"I think the urbanized people of Mongolia still have pretty strong ties to their nomadic history," Li told me. "Some of them told me they couldn't sleep in the city — too many noises at night. For many of them, the move to the city isn't necessarily a permanent one."

Still, the world isn't always changing for the better.

In addition to family, the only other thing the nomads can count on is nature. "The Kazakh people are totally dependent on their environment," Sawyer said. "They move the herd through the summer and settle down for the winter after harvesting a percentage of their flock."

Climate change is making it more difficult for the nomads to maintain their way of life.

Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"Mongolia is becoming drier and drier, which is making it more difficult for the nomads to find land for their animals to graze," Li explained. "This is forcing some of them to give up their lifestyle and move to cities."

Sawyer also noted that many families in the treeless region use coal to heat their homes. But the rising cost of coal has created yet another tension that divides families as young people take to cities to earn money to support their families.

Most of us will never be able to fully relate to the nomads' pastoral way of life, but Li's film shows we may actually have a lot in common.

From family values to a reliance on the natural world, we can find reflections of ourselves even in the middle of nowhere.

Watch "Nomads of Mongolia," a short film by Brandon Li:

Most Shared

Abigail Disney is the granddaughter of the late Roy Disney, the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co. Abigail herself does not have a job within the company, but she has made some public complaints about the way things are being run and how it is effecting the employees of the company.

Disney recently spoke on the Yahoo News show "Through Her Eyes," and shared a story of how a Magic Kingdom employee reached out to her about the poor working conditions at the theme park. So, Disney went to see for herself, and she did not like what she found.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wellington District Police

Some animals have no respect for authority. Rogue penguins are disobeying the police in New Zealand, and they can't stop, won't stop.

Two little blue penguins were spotted at Sushi Bi near the Wellington railway station, allegedly trying to nest. The penguins had to cross through busy lanes of traffic running between the harbor and the sushi bar.

The dangerous duo was detained by the police, then released back into Wellington Harbour.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature

Netflix

How much of what we do is influenced by what we see on TV? When it comes to risky behavior, Netflix isn't taking any chances.

After receiving a lot of heat, the streaming platform is finally removing a controversial scenedepicting teen suicide in season one of "13 Reasons Why. The decision comes two years after the show's release after statistics reveal an uptick in teen suicide.

"As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one," Netflix said in a statement, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
Magnific Eye / Unsplash

Los Angeles is experiencing a homeless epidemic that was years in the making.

Over the past six years, the unhoused population in the city has risen 75 percent. The city's lack of homeless shelters and affordable housing has forced many who can't afford L.A.'s sky-high rents to live on the streets.

According to LAist, since 2000, renter incomes have decreased by 3 percent while rents have gone up 32 percent.

While the city has launched a $100 million-per-year program to help the problem, rapper, entrepreneur, and actor Jaden Smith has found his own way of responding to the crisis: love.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities