Lessons from UBIFF-2022 should stick around

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From time to time, film lovers argue about the true and absolute purpose of films. One side attests that “films are devices for delivering the director’s message to society” while the other side claims that “films are supposed to make you think about the topic shown in the film on your own without preaching”. Also, there is another big debate about whether films are solely for entertainment or for art. Perhaps, it’s the same thing from one perspec- tive but it’s not from another. Some 17 films from 14 countries including the ones that won and were nominated in A-class festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, Berlin and Venice were shown at the 14th edition of the Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival (UBIFF) and they brought up the same arguments but surprisingly, it heavily leaned on to one side.


UBIFF-2022 started on October 17 with the opening ceremony and a few workshops with international film experts and wrapped up on October 23. The Arts Council of Mongolia hosted the festival in partnership with the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Office, Ulaanbaatar Arts and Culture Department, Mongolian National Film Council and Nomadia Pictures, with the support of the Embassy of France and the Embassy of South Korea. About 20 volunteers worked for a week to help the organizers. The organization of the festival was good and films were starting on time with brief introductions by local film directors and organizers.

Unfortunately, Tengis Cinema, the main venue of UBIFF, was horrible. The festival has the “international” status and yet, the venue is not improving year after year. The toilets were dirty and the main hall was packed every day. As Tengis Cinema has been supporting UBIFF for many years, its lackluster effort can be overlooked. However, the cinema should also consider the fact that
it is the main venue of the one and only international film festival of Mongolia and bring its A-game. 

One of the participants of the festival G.Dulguun said, “I ordered tickets before the festival started using my phone and I asked them [cinema staff] if my order was really confirmed without advance payment. They said it has been fully confirmed and all I had to do was show up 30 minutes before each film started. But when I called two hours before the first movie I was supposed to watch, they said my tickets were sold to other people and that I had to come in person to buy the tickets. So, I went to the cinema and bought the tickets. But if I was 10 minutes late, the tickets would have run out.”


The following is a review and comparison of some of the films featured at the festival. At UBIFF-2022, Mongolia showcased three films in the main section. “Aberrance” (2022) by B.Baatar, “Snow in September” (2022) by P.Lkhagvadulam and “Trio” (2022) by D.Battumur.

As we have stated in our previous edition, “Aberrance” was an innovative and excep- tional film produced by the Mongolian film industry. Lots of people showed up for the film screening as it was overlooked during its initial theatrical release but later on, it received stellar reviews and made many film lovers regret not watching it in the cinema. The film tells a story about mental illness, misunderstanding and greed for money, which lead a character to become a deadly assassin.

P.Lkhagvadulam’s “Snow in September” is an interesting film about a middle-aged woman sexually attracted to a teenager boy. The director, who previously won Orizzonti award for Best Short Film at the 79th Venice International Film Festival for the same film, said that she wanted to speak about a topic that is avoided by society through her pro- duction. “When a teenager girl is raped by an older man, people become enraged. But when a teen boy is raped by an older woman, no one cares. But in reality, this happens quite often, beginning some men’s sex life this way. But it is still sexual intercourse with a minor.” The audience loved how her film didn’t try to ex- press a message or find a solution for this is- sue and just showed a very real issue faced in society.

As for “Trio” by D.Battumur, it was the worst piece showcased at the festival. Mongolian films are often criticized for being overly dramatic or too focused on motherly love. It is not a bad thing, but year after year, Mongo- lian filmmakers are trying to attract the audience with effortless tear-jerker stories about a mother and her child. “Trio” was just one of them. Since it was described as a film about people with down syndrome, most people expected it to show the life and struggles of people with down syndrome alongside the chal- lenges their parents encounter. The film starts showing a boy with down syndrome who can no longer go to school as other children refuse to go near him or be in the same class after hearing some of their parents say that his condition could be contagious. Then, after about 10 minutes of screen time with the real child the story was based on, the film skips to his adult version played by the director, D.Battumur, himself. His bad acting was extremely uncomfortable to watch and unrealistic. The actor proved that a comedy actor who has a reputation of being a “clown” isn’t suited for a serious role, especially one that requires a high level of sensitivity and acting skills.

As for international films, there were several exceptional masterpieces at this year’s UBIFF. “Next Sohee” (2022) by Korean director July Jung tells a story about a high school student named Sohee who starts an externship for a subcontracted position at a call center. But she fails to bear the stress she gets from her peers and supervisor. It was based on a true story and the director claimed that she conducted thorough research on it. Some viewers said that Jung may have de- scribed herself through the character of a female detective who was working on Sohee’s case. The film uncovers a rotten system that forces mediocre students with an average life who don’t want to go to university to do hard jobs. The film simply uncovers this issue and does nothing else. It didn’t try to find a solution or preach about it to the public. That is what makes this film exceptional and perhaps, that’s why it won several awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

A story about a teenage boy raised by a clairvoyant mother taking in a bullied kid into his gang of violent outsiders is told through “Beautiful Beings” (2022) by Icelandic director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson. The film won the one and only award of UBIFF, Audience Award, as it exceptionally connects to the audience at an emotional level. The film about a group of rebellious teenagers shows the struggle they go through because of their respective negligent parents. Teen actors in this film were plausibly talented and the directing and cinematography were outstanding. Rape, “daddy issues”, stepfather prob lems, drugs and violence are shown in the film with balance and harmony to make people realize that teenagers are mostly the victims of such actions.

The closing film of the festival was Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” (2022). The closing performance is considered the high- light of any art festival and the film truly deserved the spot. The Danish director casted renowned actor Woody Harrelson and up-and- coming actors Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean Kriek, as well as talented Filipino actress Dolly Earnshaw de Leon. The casting was perfect and perhaps if other actors were hired, it wouldn’t have claimed the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Before the film started, S.Byambaa, the director of “Bedridden” (2021), said that he is a huge fan of Ostlund’s films. He said, “Ruben Ostlund’s films often have a theme of conflict that unveils the essence of human beings.”
His latest work indeed showed the true colors of the characters in the film through an unexpected turn of events. The most important character in the film was Abigail, played by Dolly de Leon. When a luxury cruise ship lands on an abandoned island, Abigail, a cleaning lady on the ship, builds a “matriarchy” as she was the only one who knew how to fish, start a fire and cook among all the rich travelers on the ship. At the end of the film, when one of her “island-mates”, Yaya, played by Kriek, finds a way to get off the island, Abigail faces the ultimate choice of murdering her and keep living on the island as “the queen” or getting back to her normal life that she never really enjoyed. However, the film doesn’t show her ultimate choice and that left people wondering. The director wanted people to think about the outcome of her decision on their own and that was his little “trick”. He wanted us to decide whether Abigail murders Yaya or gets convinced to go back to their lives and reflect on ourselves. 
Overall, UBIFF-2022 brought some incredible foreign films and some of the local films truly demonstrated the development of the Mongolian film industry. Some films brought attention to the gap in skillset between Mon- golian and international filmmakers as some Mongolian films were too preachy and cliche. Unfortunately, some film screenings weren’t well-attended by the audience and if the organizers truly are working for the devel- opment of filmmaking, they need to improve their marketing methods and attract more people. However, if you truly love films, you mustn’t miss out on the next UBIFF despite its poor marketing.

Khantushig B