(Dir. Ivo Marloh, 2017)
If you've ever wondered what it's like to ride in the world's longest endurance derby or to try your luck atop the understandably nervous, semi-wild horses of the Mongolian Steppe, you can now glimpse some of the ways such an excursion might end for you. You can even do so without paying thousands of dollars for entry. A sweeping shot of a herd of Steppe horses rumbling across the same vast terrain that Genghis Khan once rumbled across is a gorgeous introduction to the unmarked route. There is a lot of physical beauty in what the Mongol Derby racers face.
Many of these adventure seekers, whose day jobs range from jockey to IT professional and who are all non-Mongolian, have little idea of what else to expect. Filming for three years and riding for two of those years, director Ivo Marloh and crew follow several characters as they face a plethora of personal triumphs and disasters. Some wrangle the fiercest steeds while others suffer severe dehydration and broken vertebrae. Given the conflict of wills between humans and horses, these crises aren't surprising.
What is surprising is the notable lack of local commentary on the goings-on. We learn in the post-screening Q & A that the Mongol families who own the herds and feed the riders are compensated by the derby for their hospitality and horses. The film features brief comments between family members, but what could have been an interesting perspective on events that take place in their literal back yards is left completely unexplored.
The daily tensions that are explored are well built. Whether viewers are inclined to cheer for determined characters or feel relief when the same are penalized for overtaxing the animals, viewers aren't left uncaring. The Atlantic International Film Festival was the film's second stop after Ireland, but Marloh mentions possible negotiations with Netflix. If sales go according to plan, these bucking horses and their nervous riders will have many more curious viewers in their future.
Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup