Two Seasons: multispecies medicine in Mongolia (95 mins)
Two Seasons Trailer
Herding families in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia live in extreme climatic conditions and are crucially reliant on their herd animals for survival. Part of a Fejos Fellowship in Ethnographic film, the project entailed an observational film-based research inquiry into the medicinal practices used by Mongolian herders to treat their families and their herd animals. This multispecies-based analysis engages with more-than-human sociality and perceptions towards other beings. The concept of one’s homeland (nutag) and a strong sense of place are crucially important to herders. The documentary focuses on three different locations, or homelands in Mongolia, filmed in spring and then again in autumn (hence the title ‘Two Seasons’). In spring the focus is on the birth of newborn animals and increasing immunity, sometimes through bloodletting to prevent illness, while in autumn the focus is on preparing hay for winter and collecting medicinal herbs. Layering the two seasons with the three locations means the 90-minute film is structurally divided into six separate parts: Ganbaa visiting his homeland in spring; Nara’s homeland in spring; Bor and Bömbög’s homeland in spring, then returning again to all three communities in autumn. The film conveys how medicinal knowledge is passed on through practical forms of mentorship within these extended families.
A still from 'Two Seasons'. Here two herding women describe the different medicinal herbs they are collecting in autumn.
Bombog and the Iris
Still from 'Two Seasons'. Bombog describes how deer are hunted when their stomachs are full of blue iris in spring.
The hunting tree
While filming, we stopped for a break. The elder Dogsom described how he would use the tree he was resting on to sit and wait for wolves while out hunting.
Three men and a goat
A still from 'Two Seasons'. Using splints and bandages to try to mend a goat's broken leg.
Ganbaatar, driver and poet, knowledgeable elder Dogsom, a neighbouring herder and Shijiree, field interpreter, after collecting medicinal herbs and a marmot hunt.
Plumwood: person, place and plant
Natasha is currently undertaking an environmental audiovisual project relating to the people who knew the environmental philosopher Val Plumwood, the connection with Plumwood Mountain as a place and the ecology of the remarkable Plumwood tree.
Jackie French is well known in Australia as a prolific book author, probably most recognised for her children's book 'Diary of a Wombat'. Jackie and the environmental philosopher Val Plumwood shared a deep connection with one another through their mutual love of the bush, wombats, gardening and philosophy. Jackie knew Val better than most, sustaining an often fractious friendship that spanned decades. In a conversation with Natasha Fijn and George Main, who both knew Val through academia, Jackie relates stories from when she and Val first met and how they first related to one another.
Natasha published a photo essay for Landscapes: the journal for the international centre for landscape and language. The essay is entitled 'A Shadow Place: Plumwood Mountain' to indicate how bushland just off main arterial highways tends to be forgotten in the drive to speed from one destination to another.
The essay can be downloaded here from the Landscapes Journal site:
Natasha published a photo essay with Plumwood Mountain: an Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics entitled 'Impact on the Kings Highway' (2015). The dangerous Kings Highway passes by the entrance to the track leading up to Plumwood Mountain.
'Yolngu Homeland' is about Garrthalala as a place and how the Yolngu community who live there are connected with other beings, including ancestral beings, animals and plants. Aboriginal people have lived in Arnhem Land for over 45,000 years, which means that over time they have developed a deep, spiritual connection to the land. Totemic beings of significance include the saltwater crocodile, sugarbag (including stingless bees), crows, dogs and dingoes, crabs, sea eagles, turtles, and yams. Homeland communities are increasingly under threat from a lack of financial support and investment into housing infrastructure from the Australian government with a push for Yolngu to move into town centres, despite the fact that the quality of life on outstations is significantly better in terms of both mental and physical health. Unlike the negative portrayal of Aboriginal communities in the mainstream Australian media, the intention of this film is to show a positive side to a homeland community (in the tradition of Ian Dunlop and the Yirrkala Film Project) and how living on homelands are a means of maintaining a connection to Country and a unique way of life.
Here is the trailer for Yolngu Homeland. Distributed by Ronin Films, 2015.
Exploring Lost Caves
In 1954 a missionary residing in Flores Indonesia, Father Verhoeven, discovered a 3-4000 year-old skeleton and evidence of human occupation at a rock shelter. The site had been lost to archaeology for forty years until local people revealed the location to a joint team of anthropologists and archaeologists. Locals had previously uncovered bones and were keen to show the scientific team where they had found them and to have them identified. The Indonesian archaeologists had previously discovered Homo floresiensis, or The Hobbit, in other caves on the island of Flores. The discovery of these new caves holds the potential for the discovery of more remarkable finds.
Exploring Lost Caves
Wildman of Flores
This video was part of a larger project where a joint team of anthropologists and archaeologists traveled to Flores in Indonesia to research ethnographic accounts of another kind of hominid (potentially Homo floresiensis, or The Hobbit) living in caves into historic times.
Following Flying Foxes
Prof. Deborah Bird Rose states:
"Natasha Fijn and I worked together to produce a film that communicates some of the joy and beauty of flying fox life, as well as discussing many of the perils. Following Flying Foxes tells three short stories, each of which offers insight into flying foxes, the people who rescue, care for, and defend them, and some of the perils they face in life. Natasha describes her approach to film this way: ‘I have a background in wildlife filmmaking but my approach to filmmaking is more observational in style, employing principles and ethics of ethnographic filmmaking. Just as academia has tended to focus exclusively on humans, or animals, but not both, this is also the case with filmmaking. My aim is to draw techniques from both wildlife and ethnographic filmmaking genres to make observational films, which include both humans and other animals as active participants in the film."
See this short piece by Deborah Bird Rose in relation to this project:
This is the first film in the trilogy entitled 'Following Flying Foxes'. The video features individual flying foxes being cared for by Jenny and a team of volunteers at the Tolga Bat Hospital in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland.
Following Flying Foxes II
This observational video features Naomi and a young grey-headed flying fox, Peebo, who Naomi has been caring for in her home. This is the final day she is caring for the orphaned Peebo before he is transferred to a creche to socialise with other young flying foxes, prior to release back into a flying fox colony. Naomi has been trained in wildlife rescue and in the care of injured wildlife, including Peebo and another flying fox that was of a similar age.
Following Flying Foxes III
This observational video features native flying foxes, or fruit bats, who reside in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. There have been ongoing debates as to whether the flying foxes should be removed from the Royal Botanic Gardens, as some rare, yet exotic, trees are being destroyed by them. Tim has been monitoring the flying foxes for a number of years. Through the monitoring, Tim wants to ensure that the flying foxes will not suffer from undue distress as a consequence of the planned noise disturbance. This third segment of 'Following Flying Foxes' shows the flying foxes 'belly dipping' and the fly out over Sydney at sunset.
Khangai Herds is an observational film made by Dr Natasha Fijn about the coexistence of two herding families and the herd animals living amongst them in the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. The herds consist of horses, cattle (including yak), and a combination of sheep and goats. In a land of extreme conditions, both herder and herd animal depend upon one another as a means of survival. Within broad river valleys, beneath steep slopes with patches of forest, herd animals are free to roam, existing within their own complex social structure and hierarchy. Herders successfully integrate themselves within this herd social structure by taking the role of lead animal within the herd, socially engaging and communicating daily in constant cross-species, cross-cultural, human-other animal dialogue. This is achieved through herders and herd animals growing up amongst one another from birth and throughout important stages in one another’s lives.