Sweetgrass | Indy Week


Rated NR 105 min. 2010

Never mind Brokeback Mountain: You are not likely to see a better film about herding sheep in Montana than this out-of-left-field documentary stunner from Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Filmed over the course of three years in the early 2000s, Sweetgrass takes us on a year-long journey of sheep and the men, women and dogs who raise them. The film is composed of long, meditative takes, with no narration or direct address to the camera. Instead, we see timeless rituals: the calving ewes, the frantic efforts to save sick animals (including tricking mothers into adopting orphaned lambs), the shearing (which seems like a violation) and then, most spectacularly, the summer-long overland trek to the sweetgrass of the higher elevations. Among the delights are the remarkably coarse cowboys (one gloriously profane aria accompanies a majestic shot of hundreds of sheep swarming up a mountainside); among the terrors are the bears and wolves that are drawn to this woolly buffet table moving through their midst. Hurry up and see this: The drives documented by this film were the last ones conducted in this country.

Film Credits

Director: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash

Cast: John Ahern, Elaine Allestad, Lawrence Allestad and Pat Connolly

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