Ilisa Barbash in Person

The last major sheep drive across the Montana Beartooth Mountains is the nominal “focus” of this critically acclaimed documentary, but Sweetgrass encompasses far more in its complex combination of Howard Hawks Western, nature film, and sensory recording: work and labor, the decline of the American frontier, nature and the pastoral idyll, and the relationship between humans and the land. Inserting himself (literally) into a 3,000-strong herd of sheep hoofing across Montana's breathtaking Big Sky country, filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor dutifully records seemingly every baaah, bleat, and mountaintop scramble, all while two cowboys and their dogs maintain order, or try to. A lone sheep's face; a nap against a tree; a broken-down, sorrowful phone call (“I hate these mountains”)-recorded against the vast beauty of a landscape that will outlive it all. Simultaneously ethereal and earthly, the deceptively simple Sweetgrass may focus in on the sheep, but it also unveils the majestic, and stands as an essential meditation on the natural world, and our place within it.-Jason Sanders

• Photographed by Castaing-Taylor. (101 mins, Color, 35mm, From Cinema Guild)

Preceded by short:
The Way (Uruphong Raksasad, Thailand, 2006). A man with a boy on his shoulders navigates through the mountains, looking for “the old way.” (6 mins, in Thai with English subtitles, Color, Video, From Flaherty on the Road)

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