Local filmmaker shows nomads on the move in ‘Migration’
MIDDLEBURY — Sas Carey’s favorite part of filming “Migration” — her third feature-length film that will premiere in the east coast at Town Hall Theater on Friday — was riding reindeer through the mountains of northern Mongolia.
Carey, a Middlebury resident who has dabbled in energy healing, nursing, teaching and more recently, filmmaking, has been traveling to Mongolia since 1994. She met the Dukha reindeer herders while working for an organization called Nomidicare, a non-profit that aims to help perpetuate nomadic cultures in Mongolia.
Since that first visit, Carey has been returning consistently.
“I watched a lot of changes over those years,” she said. “I made the first movie, “Gobi Women’s Song,” in 2005, and I shot it from 2001 to 2004. When I went back in 2013, none of them were herders anymore. That inspired me to make a movie about people who are still nomadic on the planet, because there really aren’t that many. It’s a way of life that’s disappearing — maybe. I hope not, but it’s endangered.”
This time, Carey brought her friend and fellow filmmaker, Fred Thodal (also a Middlebury residen), to capture a specific part of the Dukha’s nomadic life: migration. The Dukha center their lives around reindeer, following the tradition of their ancestors. They ride the reindeer, pack them with goods and drink their milk, which they consider sacred. Occasionally, the reindeer are honored and sacrificed for meat. But in the summer, the weather becomes too warm, and the reindeer get restless and begin to move. When that happens, the Dukha follow.
The migration is only 14 miles long, but with considerable elevation gain. The Dukha tribe — and last June, Carey and Thodal — ride on the backs of reindeer for the duration of the 8,000-foot ascent into the mountains.
“It was very cold,” Carey said. “When we got to the summer camp, I was so tired that the wranglers put up my tent for me and I just got in it. The wind was amazing. It was 11 degrees at night when we were sleeping in the tent.”
Still, she said, “It was so much fun.”
Over the years, Carey has fostered personal relationships with members of the Dukha family. The tribe was wary of photography, but the connections that Carey created helped her win trust when filming.
“I’ve been working with that group, with the reindeer herders, since 2003,” she said. “So I know almost all of them. They let me take pictures, and they answer me, so I really have access to them, unlike somebody who would just decide to go over and make a story about it. Everybody in this movie is a friend of mine.”
So far, Carey and Thodal have shown the film in San Francisco at the Earth Day Film Festival, where it won the top honor — the Earth’s Choice Award. It won again at the Parnü Film Festival in July. But perhaps the showing that impacted Carey most was in Mongolia, in the town nearest to the nomads.
“When we were showing the movie in Mongolia, right near where the reindeer herders live in the local town, we realized: it showed them as such a proud people. When they’re in town, they’re marginalized. So that was one very interesting thing.”
Carey is excited to bring “Migration” to the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, where her friends and family can see the project she’s spent so much of her life creating, all the way on the other side of the world. A welcome reception kicks the evening off at 7 p.m., showtime’s at 8 p.m. and Q&A follows.
“People just have no clue — how can they even imagine?” she said. “They can’t. So that makes me really happy, to think that I can share that part of my life, and my friends on one side of the world with my friends here.”
“I feel very strongly about this movie,” she added. “I feel like it’s sort of my life work.”
Tickets for Friday’s showing cost $20 and can be purchased at Town Hall Theater’s website or box office. Proceeds from the film will support Nomadicare.