Cinematographer Josua Fischer has fond childhood memories of growing up in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Now, he’s returning to his roots with Harvest Moon, a film directed by Amarsaikhan Baljinnyam and shot amongst the country’s gorgeous grasslands.
“The first time I was in Mongolia was ’92, and I was nine months old with my parents who went over there as aid and development workers… We’ve got this big catalog of old slide film photographs of my childhood in Mongolia,” he tells MovieMaker. “I love the people there.”
Recently announced as Mongolia’s entry into the Oscars international features race and the winner of the Vanguard Audience award at Vancouver International Film Festival, the Mongolian-language film follows the story of Tulgaa (Baljinnyam), a city-dweller who returns to his native village in Mongolia to visit his dying stepfather. He decides to stick around to lend a hand with the summer harvest, but soon, Tuntuulei (Tenuun-Erdene Garamkhand), a sassy 10-year-old boy, takes it upon himself to teach Tulgaa what he knows about tending to the grasslands. Despite getting off on the wrong foot, the two soon realize that together, they can help each other heal from their respective emotional wounds.
It’s a story that really resonates with Fischer, whose own childhood memories are fused with that place.
Originally from Germany, Fischer grew up in Mongolia and moved to the U.S. after high school. He’s spent the last 8 years in Los Angeles, and ended up working on Harvest Moon after meeting Baljinnyam on the set of the Drew Thomas action movie The Mongolian Connection.
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While shooting Harvest Moon, Fischer and the rest of the crew stayed in yurts in the grasslands where they were filming, about 45 minutes from the nearest village, Norovlin, in Khenti province. It’s just south of the Russian border.
“At night, we’d be there talking about the movie, talking about the script. We’d even rewrite stuff at night,” Fischer said.
For the actors’ costumes, they borrowed traditional clothing from local nomad families. They even asked a local herder if they could film his herd of 400 horses as they came to the top of a hill in order to capture one of the scenes in the movie.
After shooting on location was done, Fischer said working with Mongolian colorist Ankhtamir really enhanced his cinematography and made the film shine.
“It was a great collaboration working with him on this project. I was able to send him all my inspirations,” Fischer said. “A lot of late-night video calls and doing remote color.”
He’s also working with Ankhtamir on his next project, a U.S. production called Fallen Drive.
“It was a really fantastic experience working with them. So much so that I brought him up back on for the next project,” Fischer said. “It was really easy to communicate with him and I feel like we’re kind of on the same page creatively. I was like, here’s what I want to do, and he really delivered on the look that I was looking for.”
Fischer also got to work closely with director Amarsaikhan Baljinnyam and editor Bayarsaikhan Batsukh.
“It was really my job to kind of figure out what is it that [Baljinnyam] likes, what is it that he wants the style of this to be, and what resonates with him. I was able to figure it out relatively quickly, but then the editor of the movie, he was also on set the entire time. So it almost turned into this trio of us directing, where [Baljinnyam] was really taking the lead on the acting… and then between me and the editor, we were really collaborating on the coverage. So it was kind of like the three of us really being the core creative team on set,” Fischer said.
“It’s one of my most special times of my life. It was really magical. We left there being like, we just really captured something special.”
Main Image: A young Josua Fischer with a Mongolian nomad. Photo courtesy of Fischer.