Synopsis: 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. [Synopsis courtesy of the film's official website]
Round-up: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "For three summers from 2001 through 2003, Barbash and Castaing-Taylor (who take credit as the film's producer and cinematographer, respectively, although in any normal sense of... the word they are also its directors) followed a group of Montana ranchers and hired hands into the public lands of the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains, where sheep have been herded to summer pasture since the 19th century. First and foremost, they came back with motion-picture images of startling beauty and range: close-ups of the weatherbeaten, laconic sheepherders and their steaming, stoical charges; night images of pulse-raising encounters with grizzly bears looking to poach a lamb or two; extreme long shots of the pulsing gray-white tide of sheep as they're pushed by dogs and men up or down the dramatic mountain landscapes." Manohla Dargis calls "Sweetgrass" "the first essential movie of this young year." "A record of the last time, in the early aughts, that cowboys led their flocks up into Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains for summer pasture, 'Sweetgrass' captures the arduousness and the awe (not awww) of a vanishing way of life," writes Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice. "As subcultural anthropology, it’s unassailable. Yet the often ugly-looking DV aesthetic dilutes the cumulative effect," notes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. More "Sweetgrass" reviews from the New York Post, Slant Magazine, Variety.