Directed by: Khalid Ali

Away From The Grasslands is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the Mongolian folk music phenomenon, Hanggai, as they gather in Beijing, China to record their new album, Back to You. Woven with live concert footage, intimate interviews, and an all-access look at the recording process, this film captures the band's attempt to preserve the past while creating something altogether new. Hear it from the band members and their producer, acclaimed Dutch musician and producer, JB Meijers, as they weave together musical influences as far back as Genghis Khan, as distant as punk rock, and as personal as the herdsmen's songs from the prairies of their childhood.

Review:

Away from the Grasslands

By Alexia Amoriello.

Khalid Ali’s short documentary Away from the Grasslands focuses on the Mongolian band Hanggai. What makes Hanggai utterly captivating is the fact that the band blends together traditional Mongolian folk music with other styles of music that are much more modern. Hanggai’s musical style is unbelievably unique and innovative. Away from the Grasslands also informs viewers that the band sings exclusively in Mongolian, which is a language spoken by less than 1% of the world’s population. Therefore, it seems as though it would be nearly impossible to find another band quite like Hanggai.
Hanggai’s distinctive musical style is what makes Away from the Grasslands such an absorbing film. Ali takes viewers behind the scenes as Hanggai is in the process of recording a new album. Away from the Grasslands is consistently entertaining as Ali combines the behind-the-scenes recording process with personal interviews and live concert footage. Not only does the film include interviews with the members of Hanggai, but there are also interviews with the well-known Dutch musician and producer JB Meijers, as he joins Hanggai in the studio.
It is absolutely mind-blowing to watch members of the band make use of some of the world’s oldest musical techniques such as throat singing and playing the mouth harp.
Hanggai’s music is both culturally significant and incredibly enchanting. This band deserves recognition due to their desire to preserve traditional styles of music and strengthen their ethnic identity while simultaneously producing a fresh and eccentric sound.
By opting to explore the music of Hanggai, Ali has selected a truly fascinating subject for his film. Ali’s striking close-up shots of the band members playing their instruments really enable the film to capture the spirit of Hanggai’s style and allow the music to come alive. Ali also includes beautiful shots of the Mongolian grasslands, which are particularly stunning due to the fact that the film is black-and-white.
Ali successfully encapsulates every aspect of Hanggai’s music, from their recording process to their live performances, all in under a half an hour. Ali’s film is entertaining and engrossing. Away from the Grasslands will certainly expose viewers to a musical style unlike anything they have ever heard before.
Away from the Grasslands is an official selection of the New York City Independent Film Festival and will be shown at the festival on October 12-18, 2015.