A gap year, Humanitarians of Instagram, selfie-stick of a film. It’s a movie that, without irony or self-awareness, would tell you that the Third World people it’s visited were sooo poor but they were sooo happy.
It’s a barely disguised piece of advertising for an ‘adventure’ firm that caters to the super-wealthy, and does not deserve to be called a documentary.
The film’s synopsis boasts that it follows the stories of people who come from all over the world to take part in the Mongolian Horse Derby, the world’s longest horse race, taking place over 1000km and 7 days. In fact, it follows the stories of people who all come from the same rich, white background, to take part in a British adventure company’s extreme tourism stunt. The track follows the same path of the postal service which ran by wild horse from the time of Ghengis Khan until the early 1940s, and some British guy thought that was cool so used it for a gimmick to set up a horse racing tourist event.
As for the riders, these are the most unbearable shower of cunts you can imagine. Every one of whom you know has gone back to bore the tits off people at a canapé-strewn dinner party in Islington about what a marvellous and deeply spiritual experience it was to be riding out on the Mongolian steppe as the sun started to fade over the horizon. They all have jobs like Interface Director, Developer, Adventure Company CEO. They say things like, “I expect it to be a profoundly spiritual experience to be out here surrounded by nothing”. You’ve really got to have a supreme arrogance to look at a landscape teeming with life and think of it as nothing.
The film let go unchallenged the otherisation of Mongolia as a state of mind for white people, rather than an actual place. It was very much treated as a canvas onto which could be projected anything the tourists wanted, and no counterpoint was made as to the reality of the place. No Mongolians were interviewed. One was trotted out early on to say, “Tourism is good” and promptly put back in his box as the only named speaking Mongolian in a documentary entirely set in Mongolia.
The only poor bastard I liked in this film was Monde, a horse trainer from South Africa who had actually come to the race to learn more about horses and see how they performed in this environment. As the only black guy, he was treated almost as a sort of pet. Maybe that’s too harsh, but it’s hard to judge if the curiousity of the Mongolians who wanted their picture taken with him would have seemed less objectionable, were it not for the voiceover from another competitor in a plummy, Gosford Park accent, saying, “Well, you know, with him being black, he’s probably from a far less privileged background. So for him, the opportunity to come to Mongolia, it might as well be Mars.”
The Mongolians give Monde progressively more and more difficult horses to ride each day, until on his final lap, he is given a filly that has never been ridden before and he has to break her in from scratch. The voiceover tells us that this is because Monde’s skill with the horses is so good, the Mongolians are curious to see how he does. Maybe they do. Or maybe that’s a really nice spin to put on the fact the only black guy who turned up got given all the shittest horses to ride, and ended up coming last after having to break in his final horse. Maybe if you spoke to some of the Mongolians, you might find out, but since the movie didn’t, we’ll never know.
The competitors treat the Mongolian steppe as their playground and the horses as their toys. They’re there to create an experience that will fit into the narrative of themselves, and they don’t much care for the people, animals or landscape that actually exist in the place they do that. One of the horses is destroyed during the course of the race. It’s like they’ve got a level of wealth that has made financial gambling meaningless, so they do activities like this, where the risk is their health, as one guy breaks 4 vertebrae in his neck and another travels 40km on a punctured lung and fractured pelvis.
All in all, this just seemed like an advertisement for an extreme tourist holiday that had fooled some people into thinking it was a documentary due to its run time. It’s like people thinking those wee stories on Mazda’s website are actually installments of an Emmy Award winning TV series. A vapid film full of vapid people.