Kharkhorum International Film Festival, which highlighted human rights and featured works on this topic, ended on December 13. Today, we are highlighting the documentary film “Khurd” by director L.Nomin. The work aims to show why people commit suicide and what is the reason behind it. In this context, the film team met with the families of those who committed suicide and searched for the cause of the problem. Without third-person narration, the characters fully express the film’s meaning to the audience. The character’s body language, music, and direction seem to be different from what we understand in documentaries. “Khurd” documentary film won the 2020 Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival and IDFA's First Prize for Medium Documentary. We talked with Director L.Nomin about the work and a part of its hidden stories. She is a journalist and the “Khurd” film is her first independent work.
Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about. It is difficult to find the reason behind that sadness. In particular, it seemed special that it was expressed through a documentary film.
There were reports in the newspapers stating that people had committed suicide in the past. We even heard somebody around us have committed suicide. But this is a topic that is not often talked about. Even the media does not mention the reason. Therefore, since 2010, I have started studying why people commit suicide and what are the reasons. At that time, there were only two or three small-scale sociological studies on this topic in Mongolia. Other materials that addressed the issue from a mental health perspective were mostly in foreign languages. Apart from that, reading S.Anudar’s book “Four Not Four” gave me the understanding of seeing a suicidal person from the inside. In the process of researching, I found out that suicide has become a big problem in Mongolia.
As the process of social transition took place and the market economy entered, everyone had to try for themself. The sudden shift in values has taken a toll on people, especially young people who are just starting adult life. For example, their families teach them not to lie or steal. However, when young people go out into society and go to work, they face the view that “Well, what can others say when I can do it”. Such a conflict of values has caused a person to have internal crisis and even commit suicide. However, we did not have social services to help such a person. Individuals tirelessly search for a way out of depression and find a solution, but if they are unable to solve it, the stress accumulates and they suffer from the disease called depression. Depression is considered a disease that leads to suicide. According to official statistics, at least one person commits suicide every day in Mongolia.
What ideas did you intend to express with your film? In particular, what did you want to “say” to yourself and the audience by searching for the cause of suicide?
I wanted to convey several messages through the film “Khurd”. First, we should pay attention to the silent phenomenon that is taking place in society, expose the problems that are not talked about due to traditional culture and religion, find the cause, and then eliminate them. Blaming on the person who committed suicide and ostracization of the family members and close relatives of the person who committed suicide should be prevented. People should not think that a person committed suicide because he or she is a bad person. But it is important to recognize that the person lived amid thousands of social and economic struggles. Our so-called democratic society lacks justice and equality and is in a deep crisis. We need to say that human beings are being stifled and forced to “die” because they cannot enjoy their birth rights and freedoms, and we need to discuss the reasons.
I wanted to understand why Mongolians, who have a population of three million, a history of thousands of years, and a peaceful spirit, are committing suicide, and I wanted to bring the issue to the hearts of the audience by addressing the issue from a human point of view, not numbers and statistics. In doing so, the audience was allowed to confront the people in question. I hope that the person watching the film can feel the words flowing from the heart, courage, and aspirations of the characters during the 53 minutes. Furthermore, I wanted to encourage people to understand and support each other. In the end, the goal was to remind the audience that suicide is not a solution to the problem, it is an act that will leave your loved ones with lifelong regret and pain. I had nothing to add to the movie. The story of the people who were in the film will tell the audience everything. Through this film, people were allowed to “send” their silent cry to society. I wanted their silent cry to be heard and reach all groups of society. In particular, I hope this film reaches the decision-makers who can “turn around” our destiny.
Khurd film involved the families of those who committed suicide. How did you find them? Did you have trouble connecting with them?
When I started studying, I didn't think I would make a film. I started with the desire to find the reason. In the process of research, I went to the Medical Centers in soums, the Mental Health Hospital, the National Traumatology and Orthopedics Research Center, and the courthouse, and collected information about the cause little by little. From S.Anudar’s book, it was like seeing the person from the inside. That’s how I got the motivation to make a movie. I met those people only during the research.
Social issues and events have various effects on our psychology, both positive and negative. How did hearing and studying the stories of those people affect your psychology?
It was disturbing to start research and read relevant information. However, my interest in understanding the cause had not changed. As I studied the cause and went deeper, I began to see it as a social phenomenon. The view of a journalist came up to explain the reason for that phenomenon. I was sensitive when talking to people. However, I was the one who allowed them to pour out their inner struggles. Therefore, nothing can be done if I am heartbroken after hearing it. I took a step away from that pain to turn it into art. Instead of reflecting on what people were saying, I left space for myself to feel. I did not immediately take it personally because I had an understanding of this.
When people are talking, their body language is depicted more. Music and pictures seemed to express more than the person’s words.
Yes. This is my first attempt at making a film. I thought it would be more appropriate to express the topic in the form of a film. I thought that I would take the audience to the environment where the story was told with rhythm. When we first formed the team and started taking pictures, their psychology was strongly influenced by the stories of the characters. Therefore, several people left our team. I finished with my third film team. The team is the most important thing in making a movie. Cameraman Z.Batbileg was very sensitive. The body language of the person giving the interview was carefully sensed and filmed. The sensitivity and humanity of our team members were amazing. Even those who agreed to tell their stories took great courage to open up about their sensitive issues. They wanted to prevent suicide and make others understand that this is not the solution to the problem.
I saw from the “Khurd” film that the images of people who tried to kill themselves were slowly disappearing. What ideas did you want to convey to the audience in this scene?
They are crossing the bridge between life and death. There is a phrase in the movie, “The chance of being born a human is considered to be quite rare and precious.” People who find such a precious life blame himself or herself for not being able to enjoy their birth rights and go back over that bridge. We need to keep them in this life. But we are just seeing them disappear. In reality, every day, someone dies in this way. Our work is a film about the border between life and death, as it shows people who live on one side and those who return on the other side.
I thought it was special that the people who participated in the film showed the life of the characters after the event. Do you keep in touch with your participants?
I have connections with them. Unfortunately, nothing has changed in their lives. One of them, who was digging metals, got cancer. The children who participated in the film grew up and some of them started working. However, in this unfair society, an honest person cannot achieve good things. It is a pity that the life of a person who does not lie or steal cannot be improved in our society. After I finished shooting my film, I spent a lot of time looking for a video editor. At that time I had a child. After the birth of my child, it was difficult for me to continue my work psychologically. It took me four to five years to return to film work. And then I got back in touch with the participants.
Hearing the stories of people who committed suicide, it seems that this is not a well-planned act. But it was understood as an unexpected act depending on the psychological state of the time. Was this one of the ideas you wanted to express?
Various cases were chosen when choosing characters. I wanted to show that anyone can commit suicide. Suicide statistics show that men outnumber women in every country. In doing so, women give more signs of suicide. The girl who appeared in the “Khurd” film said, “I didn’t cut my hand because I thought I was going to die. But I thought I might die.” In a sense, it is shouting “Please, help me”. Suicide is a silent protest.
What do international film critics say about the film?
The film was awarded the best work in the medium-sized film category at the Amsterdam International Film Festival. It is the biggest documentary film festival. In addition, 20 international film festivals in Asia, Europe, and Latin America have been invited to the competitive section. We are also happy to have been selected to participate in Mongolia’s first human rights-themed Kharkhorum International Film Festival. International critics have concluded that it is a work that reflects the most vulnerable aspects of society and people with respect and sensitivity. It was also considered that the common problems of humanity were touched upon. This problem exists in other countries as well. I gave an interview to Gazeta.pl news site during the Krakow International Film Festival in Poland. Journalists said, “If you remove only Mongolia, it is a film about our country.”
Have you found an idea for your next work?
I started filming my next film. The sensitive topic of poverty and violation of human rights will be shown. I am a person who suffers from the lack of justice in society. We believe 150 percent that everyone should enjoy their birth rights and freedoms. In that sense, I am addressing this issue with my current work. A screenplay is not simple like sitting down and writing, so it will probably take a long time.