The Fire within

Galsan Tschinag and the Tuvan Nomads of Mongolia

A Documentary by Gernot Stadler

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Documentary drama, 45 min, 2012
GS-Film, ORF/3sat
Written and directed by
Gernot Stadler
Dietmar Kaltenhofer
ORF Enterprise

The documentary film “The Fire within” (3sat, 45 min) accompanies photographer Gernot Gleiss on his journey to the Upper Altai in Western Mongolia, the settlement area of the Tuva. Here, he meets the tribal leader, shaman and writer Galsan Tschinag, who shows him the way of life and traditions of the Tuvan nomads. As a photographer, Gernot Gleiss wants to document the everyday life of the Tuva and publish it as a book with texts by Galsan Tschinag. Gernot Gleiss and Galsan Tschinag are guests in the yurts of the Tuva, where they are served with salty milk tea, fermented mare’s milk, sheep’s cheese or lamb. Galsan Tschinag treats the old and the sick, exchanges snuff and listens to the stories of the people, which then flow back into his own stories. Gernot Gleiss carefully, without ever interfering in the course of things, captures this difficult but at the same time comfortable life: the children gathering the horses, the old man cutting up the fresh meat, the girls and women heating the small metal furnace, the leathermaker making a bridle, the many young and old at the dedication of their stone sanctuary, the Owoo.

The film “The Fire within” shows the origin of the book of the same name, plunges into the life of the Tuvans in their autumn camp between the White River and the Camel Neck Gorge in the Upper Altai. It stays close to people, to everyday worries and joys and the Tuva, whose traditional nomadic way of life is only broken by a few Russian ATVs and one or two satellite dishes on the yurt. This is reason enough for tribal leader Galsan Chinag to fear about the future of the Tuva. “Will my people perish?” he asks himself in one of his many books. The film and book will not be able to answer that, that is for sure. “The Fire within” is rather a snapshot of a nation that reluctantly, almost fearfully, yields to the ever-increasing influences of so-called modernity. It is almost as if the Tuva felt that it was not only the loss of their traditions and traditional way of life that was at stake, but their very existence as a nation.