If your kids love watching Planet Earth, Animal Planet, National Geographic, or even if they are just animal-lovers who haven’t ever seen a documentary before– The Story of the Weeping Camel is your next pick for family movie night.
The story tells of a mom camel, who rejects her adorable baby camel after a particularly hard birth, and the nomadic Mongolian family who try everything they can to help their animals bond and survive in the Gobi desert. Their final efforts include sending the 2 young boys, via camel, to the nearest village to search for a special musician, who would try to use his music to facilitate the bonding.
The story behind the story, is that Italian/Mongolian/German filmmakers set off to film a documentary about this family, living in yurts, in breath-taking scenery, and with deep-rooted traditions… without intentions of doing a story about the camels. In fact, it would have been impossible to plan a difficult birth and script such vivid, real scenes on film. There are no explanations to how this film team stumbled upon and captured this little miracle, which transformed their documentary into a dramatic, emotional folk story.
Warning: unlike popular Hollywood movies (which this is not, and does not pretend to be) this accurately demonstrates the families’ slow-paced life, without a soundtrack and barrage of dialogue that deafens the natural rhythm of the steppe in Central Asia. The magical cinematographic photography captures and tells the story itself without the need for a narrator, and the minimal dialogue is in Mongolian. This was my kids’ first experience with listening to a foreign film in its original language, and I gave them no introduction about the subtitles. I simply sat on the couch and snuggled with my kids, and read the subtitles with my two first graders, while the two 4 wide-eyed year olds listened.
The film captures the baby camel actually being born, and my children had me rewind it at least 3 times to see the scene (apparently we need to spend some time on a farm). They were in tears when the mommy camel wouldn’t let the baby nurse… I never knew camels were so vocal, but hearing the baby cry and wail for milk, and chasing it’s mom to try to drink made us all tear up several times. My 7 year old daughter, a true animal lover with a deep heart looked at me and warned me that “somebody better give that camel milk” or she would not finish watching the movie.
Before checking out the movie, preview these fantastic National Geographic resources to learn more about the Gobi Desert and its people. Meant to be used in sync with the film, these pages include photographs, timelines, background and historical information related to the steppe, the traditions, the people, the camels.
Here are specific lesson plans created by NatGeo to use with The Story of the Weeping Camel:
Ritual has been an integral part of human life in every civilization and every historical era, and the rituals of all cultures have common characteristics.
In this lesson, students will identify characteristics of traditional and modern rituals found in different cultures. Through reading articles and watching videos of several rituals, students will identify some of their characteristics. Finally, students will apply their understanding to modern rituals in their own lives. (from nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/)
We did a very adapted version, discussing what we learned from the movie, what was new or interesting about the family’s tradition, and we talked about what we would like to learn more (I typed as they talked- this is literally in my kids’ words). I love how insightful they are!:)
1) This doesn’t look like a desert [I told them it took place in Mongolia, in the Gobi Desert. We had checked it out on the map and located it “right on top of China!”] I thought deserts were hot? This looks cold because they’re wearing hats and winter coats. [my kids’ only experience has been in the Chihuahuan Desert in northern Mexico]. Where are the “cactuses”? Oooh, that’s a sandstorm!
1) The houses are round, and pretty big with a lot of rugs. People live together, like the grandma and grandpa live with the mom and dad and the kids. The baby cries a lot but the grandma helps her and gives her candy. Sometimes the baby has to be tied up on a leash so she won’t burn herself because the big pot is hot in the middle of the house and has fire in it. The boy takes a bath in a big bowl and he looks like he is too cold, but then his mommy gives him a towel.
2) They drink a lot of something that looks like brown milk, and it is very hot. Even the kids drink it, and the adults. They use spoons or use a cup to drink it. The grandma spills the milk in different directions outside when she prays, and they also bring food when they go to “church” (my children’s words for when they have the Buddhist ceremony).
3) They have a lot of animals: camels, goats, sheep. The camels are very cute, and make a lot of noises. It is sad when the baby camel cries. The mommy camel is mean when she kicks the baby with her knee. Both camels cry with real tears. She doesn’t know how to be a mama yet because she is angry that the baby hurt her when it was being born. The kids help to take care of the animals a lot.
4) The boys ride camels to get the violin man. They didn’t see a city before and like to see the TVs and the little boy liked ice cream. How can the parents let them go by themselves so far? Did they know the other people when they went in their house? We aren’t allowed to go in a stranger’s house. Their clothes [the boys] were different than the people in the town and some people were staring at them.
5) The music sounds pretty, and it sounds different than our music. The violin doesn’t look like a violin. The camels really liked the music and it helped the mama calm down and the baby to not be scared of the mama.