The familiar touches throughout the documentary “Drokpa” help emphasize how foreign life seems on the expansive Tibetan plain. Life is difficult for nomadic indigenous families, for these herders of yak and sheep.
A mom says to her kid -- who’s probably hiding rather than just tucked under his blanket -- “Time to get up. I’m begging you.” A woman refers to getting married at 16 and having two kids quick, the dad leaving, and the mom remarrying. A grandpa fumbles with rubber banding a toddler’s hair. Not incidentally, the women claim to do more work than the men, not the least of which is preparing all the food from scratch. (They even make the clay stove from scratch.) Seeing the men sitting around playing some checkers-like game probably isn’t meant as proof.
Motor bikes next to horses and solar panels next to huge tents with television hint at modernization. Desertification drifts over lakes that dry out. Grasslands shrink. Sand accumulates. Migration to population centers and resettlement projects looms over tradition.
Dung…. Yak and sheep and horses produce lots of dung. There’s some motorized help but mostly women fill and haul baskets of dung. It’s fuel for cooking and heating. The nomads also spread dung on sandy areas hoping to reclaim or at least slow changes to the landscape.
A film such as “Drokpa” does more than assure a cinematic style in documentary coverage. It helps us smooth our perspective on the far corners of an essentially spherical planet.