With an unmistakable visual style, the Mongolian-born, Canadian filmmaker Alisi Telengut has proven herself to be one of the most gifted and original artists creating experimental animations. Working with oil pastels, she paints her impressionistic visuals frame by frame. Through this meticulous process, Telengut builds shapeshifting worlds that are easy to get swept up in, though they exist for just a few minutes. Her themes are equally distinct, often inspired by a drive to explore the ethnography and history of the nomadic cultures of Asia, including her own Mongolian origins.
The Fourfold (2020) is perhaps her most ambitious and accomplished work to date. In the piece, Telengut’s tactile brushstrokes and an interview with her grandmother, Qirima Telengut, form the foundation of a meditation on ‘animistic beliefs and shamanic rituals in Mongolia and Siberia’. In sparse narrations spread across the film’s 7 minutes, Qirima Telengut describes rituals including the construction of ovoos, or shamanic stone alters decorated with colourful silk scarves, and the ceremony of ‘milk libation’, in which the life-giving substance is poured as an offering to the deities and spirits.
Telengut pairs her grandmother’s words with swirling landscapes inspired by the rituals described, with the inclusion of real flowers, mosses, branches and rocks in the film’s second half adding another rich layer to her visual treatment. Building an appropriately ethereal soundscape, she intermingles sweeping winds, crackling fires and flowing water with a rhythmic chant from the Tuvan folk music group Huun-Huur-Tu. With a momentum built on the gathering of earthly and mystical elements, the border between these two realms seems to dissolve as the film reaches its forte, evoking the oneness of spirit at the heart of animistic traditions.
In Telengut’s hands, the film is more than an act of preservation. Today, animism persists not just in the small patches of Asia where nomadic cultures endure, but as an alternative to belief systems that view humans as separate from, and having dominion over, the world around them. As we face mounting ecological crises, The Fourfold suggests that the ancient idea that there’s life and a unified spirit at the heart of all things offers a form of wisdom that could prove vital for the planet, and for the humans who share it.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Director: Alisi Telengut