‘If Only I Could Hibernate’ Makes History at Cannes as Mongolian Film Biz Increases Its Reach

 Zoljargal Purevdash’s “If Only I Could Hibernate,” the first Mongolian film to be shown in Cannes’ official selection, marks another important step for the industry that’s ready to make some moves. 

“Things are looking up,” observes the director, mentioning the newly established Mongolian National Film Council and Mongolian Film Fund. “Mongolia just introduced its new film law [which came into force in January 2022] so it’s really starting right now. I hope we will be able to make more films in the future.” 

Her debut feature, presented at Un Certain Regard, was produced by Amygdala Films and France’s Urban Factory, with Urban Sales also on board. 

“It’s still not that easy to co-produce with Mongolia, but there is finally a new fund in place for these films. When you start supporting local producers and then you end up in Cannes, it’s a very good sign,” notes Urban Factory’s Frédéric Corvez.  

“If Only I Could Hibernate” tells the story of a teenage boy, Ulizii, who lives in the yurt area of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. He’s a physics genius who has secured a university scholarship. But after his alcoholic mother leaves for the countryside, he and his younger siblings have to survive the winter. 

“The greatest solution to poverty is education. Not just in Mongolia,” says the director, who also grew up in the yurt district, raised by a single mom. 

“Every child should be granted that chance. I am speaking from personal experience, because I went to the best high school and got a scholarship to study in Japan. Now, I speak three languages and I am able to take care of myself. I came back, because all the stories I wanted to tell are right here. But my friends are stuck in the same vicious circle.” 

In her film — echoing “Good Will Hunting,” which famously saw Matt Damon as a prodigy from South Boston — Ulzii also starts to understand he can change his family’s future. 

“Education is not just about math and physics. It’s learning how to manage your finances, it’s sex ed. That was my reason behind making this film. I wanted to ask: ‘What can we do?’ Because we need to do something.” 

Instead of exoticizing her country, even though she is referencing local traditions, Purevdash decided to work with children from the same district and stay close to reality. However dark it might be. “It wasn’t my intention to bring more tourists to Mongolia. I wanted to tell this story honestly and look at some of these pointless efforts — also when it comes to air pollution.  

“When I started this project, I was so angry. Now, I am able to laugh at it instead. These kids always hope they can achieve better things. When I was developing the film, people would ask: ‘Can you describe it in just one word?’ To me, it was ‘hope.’ ” 

Associate producer Maéva Savinen says, “You can really feel it’s inspired by her own experience.” According to Mongolian National Film Council’s head of international relations and cooperation department, Nomin-Erdene Gereltuya, the film can also serve as a “great introduction” to Mongolian actors and crews. 

“We hope that more global players will choose Mongolia as a filming destination due to our cash rebate incentives for international projects. We are fully prepared to provide assistance to these productions,” she adds. 

Filmmakers can now receive up to 45% of the filming cost for projects that are produced in Mongolian territory with minimum spending of $500,000. That includes filming (30%), culture promotion (10%) and foreign talent reimbursement (5%).  

Furthermore, the Mongolian Film Fund can provide funding for both domestic and international joint film projects. 

“This means that filmmakers in Mongolia can potentially access additional resources and support for their projects, and collaborate with international partners to showcase Mongolia’s unique culture, landscapes and stories to a global audience,” she states.  

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