Price: $195.00

    Code: 2361

    Produced by Ilisa Barbash
    Recorded by Lucien Castaing-Taylor
    2009, 101 minutes
    Purchase: $195 | Please inquire about rentals for your school or library

    An unsentimental elegy to the American West, Sweetgrass follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana's breathtaking and often dangerous Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. This astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, climate and landscape, and vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed.

    Recordist's Statement on the Film
    We began work on this film in the spring of 2001. Living at the time in Colorado, we heard about a family of Norwegian-American sheepherders in Montana, who were among the last to trail their band of sheep long distances — about a hundred and fifty miles each year, all of it on hoof — up to the mountains for summer pasture. I visited them that April during lambing, and was so taken with the magnitude of their life — at once its allure and its arduousness — that we ended up working with them, their friends, and their Irish-American hired hands intensively over the coming years.

    Sweetgrass is one of nine films to have emerged from the footage we have shot over the last decade, the only one intended principally for theatrical exhibition. As they have been shaped through editing, the films seem to have become as much about the sheep as about their herders. The humans and animals that populate them commingle and crisscross in ways that have taken us by surprise. Sweetgrass depicts the twilight of a defining chapter in the history of the American West, the dying world of Western herders — descendants of Scandinavian and northern European homesteaders — as they struggle to make a living in an era increasingly inimical to their interests. Set in Big Sky country, in a landscape of remarkable scale and beauty, the film portrays a lifeworld colored by an intense propinquity between nature and culture — one that has been integral to the fabric of human existence throughout history, but which is almost unimaginable for the urban masses of today.

    Spending the summers high in the Rocky mountains, among the herders, the sheep, and their predators, was a transcendent experience that will stay with me for the rest of my days.

    Subjects & Collections

    Festivals & Awards

    * Official Selection, New York Film Festival, 2009
    * Official Selection, Berlin Film Festival, 2009
    * Winner, Artistic Vision Award, Big Sky Film Festival, 2010


    "A really intimate, beautifully shot examination of the connection between man and beast..." – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

    "A one-of-a-kind experience. At once epic-scale and earthbound, Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s startling documentary plays like a mad cross between Howard Hawks' 'Red River' and 'Grass,' Merian Cooper's paean to vanishing nomadic traditions (with a dash of Tex Avery's 'Drag-along Droopy')" – Ronnie Scheib, Variety

    "Monumental. An anthropological work of art." – Robert Koehler, Cinema Scope

    "A cinematic and documentary accomplishment." - American Anthropologist

    “Highly recommended. An amazing movie. While a contemporary view, this movie would be a great tool in teaching the history of the Western settlement after the Civil War. It may also cause those who have romantic dreams of leaving a boring desk job for the wide open outdoors to have a second look.” - Educational Media Reviews Online

    "This is gorgeous ethnography that successfully makes a relatively simple subject interesting for those of us who are completely foreign to its setting." – Howard Feinstein, Filmmaker Magazine

    "An extraordinary piece of visual anthropology that is as beautiful and involving as it is informative about a threatened way of life." – Nora Lee Mandel, Film-Forward

    "Sweetgrass takes on the mythology of the American West as it observes a seasonal last roundup of sheep by ranchers in Montana. A new generation’s take on ethnography." – David D’arcy, Screen Daily

    "In its starkly beautiful imagery of herders and sheep's kinship with each other and their imposing, hazardous surroundings, Sweetgrass achieves a borderline abstract splendor." - Nick Schager Slant Magazine

    "Sweetgrass might indeed be the very last Western... In preserving this special, lost American tradition, Barbash and Castaing-Taylor have made a lasting contribution to the canon and one of the year’s best nonfiction films." – Michael Tully, Hammer to Nail

    "Sweetgrass and Castaing-Taylor's deliberate positioning of related work in spaces traditionally considered risky for serious anthropology suggests the emergence of a new agenda in ethnographic filmmaking, one in which the aesthetic possibilities of a particular medium are no longer to be denied but fully embraced." - Cultural Anthropology