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Sweetgrass cover photo

Sweetgrass 2009

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Ilisa Barbash
Director n/a
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
American Studies, Agriculture, Anthropology, United States West

Date Entered: 06/10/2010

Reviewed by Michael Fein, Coordinator of Library Services, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg, VA

This amazing movie is best described by its website:

“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, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed.”

One has to see this movie with its breathtaking views of the mountains, the deep valleys, encounters with bears, and the everyday very messy work of dealing with animals and nature to appreciate it. The life lead by those who work in agriculture is extremely hard and unsparing—some viewers may be shocked by how the herders will carry lambs and what is involved with docking a tail, clipping an ear and castration. The herders are not abusive, but this is their business and after several thousand lambs one knows how to work with them. Watching this brought back childhood memories of seeing sheep shorn when my family lived in Wyoming and made stories of my mother’s childhood in Kansas and her mother’s in the Oklahoma Territory come alive. Enterprises like this are often a family affair and seeing children who may be barely past ten years old riding horses and herding sheep is something that makes one realize how quickly even a young person can learn responsibility when needed. Besides the danger of the mountains, bears are a menace and there are scenes where the herders must deal with bears who are threatening the herd. There is no narration and actually very little dialogue between the herders – they discuss the situation with the animals, discuss bears, curse at the frustrations of nature, their equipment, and their weariness of moving sheep over such obstacles. Some may be surprised to see one of the herders carrying a pistol – it’s just another tool one needs in this environment.

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.