A film by Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2009, 101 minutes
No. 272

Lawrence Allestad and family were among the last of the traditional sheepherders of the American West. Under a public grazing permit that had been handed down in his Norwegian-American family for generations, Allestad was the final rancher to drive his herds into Montana's rugged Absaroka-Beartooth range north of Yellowstone to fatten on sweet summer grass. The family members and their hired hands conducted the drives much as their pioneer forebears had -- on horseback, with dogs for herding and guarding, and armed with rifles to frighten away bears and wolves. Over the years, better gear -- walkie-talkies, four-wheelers and cell phones -- took some of the edges off a hard life, but still the work remained exhausting and dangerous for both men and animals.

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.

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Official Selection, New York Film Festival
Official Selection, Berlin Film Festival

"A one-of-a -kind experience. At once epic-scale and earthbound " - Ronnie Scheib, Variety

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

"Awe-inspiring ... Hilariously weird." - Jim Hoberman, Village Voice