Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Baa-Back Mountain 

Sweetgrass' cowboys and sheep head for a field of dreams

Ever since documentaries started denting the mainstream 15 or so years ago, there's been an influx of movies about pretty much anything you can imagine. Wheelchair-bound athletes? Check. Guys who have sex with horses? Check. Puppet regimes that have changed hands a half-dozen times between the film's shoot and release? Yep.

So it really should come as no surprise that a married couple has finally unveiled Sweetgrass, their eight-years-in-the-making documentary about two cowboys, 3,000 sheep, and the Montana mountains they all head to for a summer of grazing.

Yes, Sweetgrass is a movie about sheep. And it's a narration-free movie about sheep to boot. But there are some moments of pure tranquility here, as Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor haul their cameras over hills and dales toward their destination. (This is the last time the shepherds made the three-month, 150-mile trek, so there's some poignancy to the proceedings.)

Sweetgrass begins at the ranch, where a group of herders prepare for their long journey by shearing the sheep of their wooly coats. They go about their daily routine as the filmmakers focus on their tasks. The film's best scenes are these composed images — like when a tractor leads a group of sheep through the middle of the small town's main street, or when a procession of horses walks past a postcard-worthy vista.

Even though there's no narration to pull along viewers, Sweetgrass isn't a totally silent movie. Natural elements like howling wind, bleating sheep, and the crunch of feet on snow figure prominently on the soundscape. The cowboys, however, don't say much, even as they set up a makeshift campsite or prepare food.

Still, little happens here. Sheep walk, cowboys follow ... and there's not much conflict. These guys are old hands at this kind of work, and most of their journey runs as planned, even if it is a time-consuming trudge. One guy calls his mom on his cell phone to complain about a bum knee, lack of sleep, and some uncooperative sheep, and a bear sorta attacks the herd one night. For a narration-free documentary about sheep, this passes as major drama.

mgallucci@clevescene.com

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.

More by Michael Gallucci

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 9, 2020

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2020 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 241-7550
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation