Battumur Dorj, TRIO, 2023 Official Selection Winner

Battumur Dorj, 2023 Official Selection Winner, Gives a Voice to the Rights of People with Disabilities

For Battumur Dorj, whether you live in his native Mongolia, the United States or any other country around the world, there is one universal language we all share: love.

This universal connection and a son’s deep love for his mother led Battumur to create TRIO, a 2023 Free Speech Film Festival Official Selection winner.

Although  Battumur is a well-known actor and producer in Mongolia who has appeared in more than 30 feature films (including the lead role in TRIO) and played the main or supporting character in more than 50 theater productions, TRIO was his writing and directorial debut. The film depicts the story of Jam, a boy with Down Syndrome, and the journey he takes following the death of his mother.

One of the key scenes of the movie occurs when Jam and a monk he begins living with following his mother’s death perform the traditional Mongolian ritual of open air burial. They put a mark on his mother’s body in accordance with the Mongolian nomadic custom so that Jam will recognize her when she is reincarnated. When this same mark later shows up on the hand of Jam’s niece, it serves as a reminder that humans are always connected.

Battumur Dorj

Battumur Dorj

“I made the movie TRIO in memory of my late mother. I wanted to show the future generations, through the cinematography, the nomadic burial rituals that are fading as the country is developing and becoming more urbanized,” Battumur said. “The motto of the “TRIO” is: “Leave No One Behind”. The film is about creating equal participation in society for the people with Down Syndrome and speaking out against the discrimination of people on the basis of difference in their abilities. It is the work that truly showcases my essence as an artist.”

Battumur co-wrote the film with Altangerel Oyunsaikhan  and it was produced by Oyunsaikhan, Bulgantamir Ganbat and Ganzorig Vanchig. Battumur said the journey to create the film came out of the deep grief he felt following his own mother’s death.

“My love for my mother is eternal and immortal. So I decided to produce a movie about the feelings of mothers and children and immediately started looking for a film script. But then my friend who agreed to be a screenwriter for my film told me that there are people who are more loving and happier than us. These people are sometimes called “Mongols” in the name of our nation and in fact they have Down Syndrome. We immediately agreed that this is the right topic that gravitates everything into love. So, the script was written jointly by my best friend and family,” he said. “The film is not only about the mother and son but also about the interdependence between humans and nature. The movie is all about tough but inescapable natural law, nomadic culture, unique tradition, religion, and people’s beliefs. All these are connected and transformed to become a love.”

He worked for two years to create the film and overcame many obstacles to complete it, including filming during the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with harsh climates in Mongolia. However, in looking back on it, Battumur said he knows that making TRIO was exactly what he was meant to do.

“The movie has little conversation. But people talk a lot about love, without words. That was my purpose! When I finished the movie, I felt like I was born to direct this film,” he said.

Today, TRIO has become more than a film – it’s a movement. Since the beginning of the production on the film, Battumur and his team have been working continuously on building awareness of the discrimination people with Down Syndrome and other similar conditions face and creating a positive impact in the quest for equal opportunities for them in society. In March of 2023, Battumur and his team held a discussion and screening of TRIO at a World Down Syndrome Day event at the headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. He said the event was focused on building an inclusive society with the respect for human rights.

“We wanted to create a platform through film where we can join our voices regarding the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities. Our team is working together to create that platform through TRIO,” he said. “Nowadays in Mongolia, we are beginning to distinguish and recognize people with Autism, Down Syndrome and other conditions. I hope that this movie helps in creating awareness on the issue, even if it may be just a drop in the bucket. That is why the film is a unique art form and a powerful instrument.”

As the film’s description says, the message of TRIO is how human life is connected to so many things and that love unites us: “A human life is nothing but a dwelling in the intertwined trinity of the past, present and future or in the realm of the TRIO under the father heaven and the mother earth. There is no way one can escape in the midway. Humans come onto earth and return into earth, and that is the only truth. Even as time passes, attuned mental talk between the mother and the child, breathing and living under the sun with one heart do not fade but become more like an eternal spiritual lullaby to each other, and this is the natural law. The tendency to be rude, overly compassionate, or discriminating against people with Down Syndrome, as well as rude explanations in connection with the words Mongol, Mongoloid and Mongolism, has not disappeared from our society. The world speaks many languages, but we have only one common language. This is love.”

Battumur said he was grateful to have a platform like the Free Speech Film Festival to further bring awareness to his film.

“The Free Speech Film Festival has truly become the platform through which we were able to voice the idea that we wanted to share through our art! Herewith I would like to express my gratitude to all of my colleagues. Thank you all again and I wish the best of luck to the Free Film Speech Festival,” he said.

Since 2010, Battumur has produced more than 10 commercially successful films, including Rashaant 18 (2010) Enemy of Mother (2011) and The Boss of Microbus (2013), and established himself as one of the most high profile and leading men of the Mongolian film industry. While TRIO focused on Jam’s life and bringing awareness to the plight of those living with Down Syndrome, Battumur said his next project will shine a deeper light on the monk’s story.

“In the near future I am planning to film a documentary about Buddhism, more specifically about the the spiritual journey of a monk, who spends many months traveling alone for hundreds of kilometers, who takes vows and meditates to deepen his knowledge and wisdom. It has truly become my dream and aspiration to make meaningful films for the human kind and leave my own legacy in film,” he said.

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