If Only I Could Hibernate
by Zoljargal Purevdash, Mongolia / Malaysia
When Bat learns that the winner of the national olympiad receives a scholarship, he decides to enter the competition. Bat, 15, is the eldest of five children living with their widowed mother in the poor Ger district of Ulaanbaatar. It is winter and his mother has lost yet another job. They can’t even afford coal to heat their home. To his surprise, Bat wins a special award at the local olympiad competition. His physics teacher Bilegt, will tutor him for the nationals. Bat returns home with this news, only to find his mother leaving to work in the countryside. Bat is left to find ways to survive the bitter winter with his two eldest siblings. He needs to make enough money for food and coal. He starts skipping school, working at many odd jobs. The government meanwhile, is about to enforce a ban on unrefined coal entering the city. Underprepared, Bat fails in the olympiad nationals. He returns home to find their dog has frozen to death. Samdan, his neighbour, appears with a gift - a truckload of coal.
I have lived in the Ger District of Ulaanbaatar since I was 13 years old. My mother had a small corner shop there, so I know the lives of my neighbors very well; their joys, their struggles and their dreams, and how happy they are to be able to afford just one sack of coal that helps them stay warm at night in the harsh Mongolian winter.
In December 2016, a friend of mine added me to a Facebook group called “Parents against Pollution”. The members of that group were planning to organize a demonstration with the slogan “Extinguish the Smoke”.
I was taken aback by the attitude of the people in this group who demanded that the Ger district residents stop burning coal or return to the countryside. At that moment, I realized that my city was divided in two; between the rich and the poor. They ceased to understand each other. For me, what we are breathing is not pollution, it is poverty.
Through If Only I Could Hibernate, I want the people living in the apartments to witness, understand and empathize with how hard life is in the poor Ger district.
The characters won’t explicitly comment or criticize the pollution, but it will be present in all of the exterior scenes in the city. Everything in the fringes of the city, from the roads and fences to people’s clothes, are blackened by the heavy soot of coal. As such, the primary color palette of the movie will be grey and other cool blue. To capture the slow grind of their daily lives, the cinematography will largely consist of static shots and the editing will have a moderately slow pace. The approach to portraying the impoverished lives of the characters will be sober and realist, with non-stylised set design, makeup, and wardrobe.
If Only I Could Hibernate is a timely and universal story that displays the catch-22 of poverty and the willpower of the human spirit in the face of tremendous strain. The lm gives voice to a segment of our population who burns unre ned coal in the brutal Mongolian winter to survive.
The most important reason is the director: Zoljargal Purevdash. I believe she has the drive, intellect, and talent to make a great movie. Zoljargal writes about lives and struggles and dreams she knows. Many of the main character’s hopes and struggles she faced herself as an adolescent, which is why the lm will be an honest work.
If Only I Could Hibernate is poised to break the mold of Mongolian cinema and demonstrate to Mongolian filmmakers the possibilities of an international market.
Genre Fiction Drama
Shooting format 4K, Color
Estimated running time 90'
Production status Writing and Development
Shooting language Mongolian
Shooting location Mongolia
Shooting period Jan-Mar 2020
Total budget EUR 280'000
Funds secured EUR 68'000
Coproducers Tan Chui Mui, Da Huang Pictures, Malaysia; Naranbat Bayasgalan, Nomadia Pictures, Mongolia