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In the summer of 2003, a group of shepherds took a herd of sheep one final time through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, in the extreme northwest of the United States. It was a journey of almost 300 kilometers through expansive green valleys, by fields of snow, and across hazardous, narrow ridges - a journey brimming with challenges. The aging shepherds do their very best to keep the hundreds of sheep together; the panoramic high mountains are teeming with hungry wolves and grizzly bears. Written by
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
Sweetgrass is a documentary, literally: a document of a particular place, time and events. There's no narration, no host or guide, and seemingly no attempt to edit the footage to tell a story. Each scene appears to be chosen because it illuminates the subject, rather than for drama.
The camera records a group of sheep farmers and herders preparing a flock and getting them across the mountains. The focus is on everyday details of animal tending and herding, straightforward and unsentimental. The people working with the sheep seem mostly unconscious of the cameras, just going about their business. It's like seeing into another life.
Of course, it's another life that's centered around sheep. If that sounds boring, this probably isn't the film for you, because that's all there is to it, and it's slow-paced. It's very different from Discovery Channel style documentaries that try to teach and entertain. There's no Mike Rowe here to relate everything he's doing to you so that you can understand what's going on.
But there's something to be said for just watching things happen.
The movie isn't trying to reach out and explain itself to you, and that enables it to draw you in, if you're willing to go along for the ride.
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