• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass

Directed by Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor. (2010, NR, 2010 min.)

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 18, 2010

When the married filmmaking team, Barbash and Cataing-Taylor, began filming a Montana family of sheepherders in the early part of the decade, their subject was an endangered species; by the time the picture had locked, endangered had progressed to extinct. In 2003 (when the bulk of Sweetgrass was filmed), the Allesteds were the last ranchers still driving their sheep into the Absaroka-Beartooth mountain range on a grazing permit that had been handed down through the generations. They’ve since sold the ranch, which makes this documentary an ethnographic freeze-frame of a way of life now lost. But Sweetgrass is no elegy; there’s no editorializing here, just a straightforward immersion in the day-to-day work of sheep farming and herding. The film loosely charts the seasons from shearing to lambing to summer pasturing, when Lawrence Allestad and right-hand man John Ahern drove a thundering herd of sheep 150 miles and up a mountain to feed for three months. Sweetgrass’ unbroken shots of often-repetitive activity have a beguiling quality to them, their very monotony encouraging a deeper absorption and reflection, but hard facts aren’t easy to come by. The layout of the mountain camp, for instance, is a mystery, and the ranchers are mostly unidentified, with dialogue frequently muffled to the point of inaudibility. But the natural soundscape – of wind, sheep bleats, and dog barks – is a wonder, and the Big Sky pictorals dazzle, too. And then there’s calcified cowboy Ahern, shot pissing from behind, his pecker in one hand and a .45 in the other – a time-capsule keeper if ever there were one.

READ MORE
More Films
Everything, Everything
Another YA adaption of star-crossed lovers

Marc Savlov, May 19, 2017

Chuck
The rise and fall of the real-life Rocky

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 19, 2017

More by Kimberley Jones
The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, Song to Song
The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, Song to Song
As heard in the movies

May 19, 2017

Page Three: Summer Songs
Page Three: Summer Songs
Soundtracking the summer

May 19, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Sweetgrass, Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)