USA 2009, Documentary, 115' | Director, Screenplay Ilisa Barbash | DoP Lucien Castaing-Taylor

“Ilisa Barbash and I began working on this film in spring 2001. We lived back then in Colorado and heard about Norwegian and Irish-American shepherds in Montana, who covered over 150 miles per year with their flocks of sheep in order to spend the summer on high-altitude mountain pastures. Our first meeting with the shepherds was at the time when the lambs were born. We were so fascinated by the charming but also arduous life of these people that we have continued working with them since. Sweetgrass is one of nine films made from the material that we filmed in recent years. It is the only one of these nine films not intended primarily for showings in galleries.” Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Sweetgrass is an unsentimental elegy to the American West, an incantation of the circumstances of the last shepherds in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana that appeals to all the senses. Without explanatory off-screen comments, the film presents a world in which nature and cultivation, animals and humans, climates and landscape, vulnerability and violence are very closely linked. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor follow the day the work of the “sheep cowboys”, armed with revolvers and rifles, without romanticizing them. Sometimes we see them just as small specks in a breathtaking setting as they try and keep the herds together. But thanks to the sound transmitter, we clearly hear how they complain about their work. One particular scene remains in the mind in which a distinguished and well built man phones his mother and starts to cry. The flock of sheep has run away, the guard dogs are not doing what they're supposed to, and his knees are aching. Getting there three years of filming, Barbash and Castaing-Taylor did not know that they were filming the very last trail. This also makes Sweetgrass a unique document.


ILISA BARBASH was born in 1959 in New York and works as a filmmaker, writer and curator. She has worked together with Lucien Castaing-Taylor on a number of books and films. This includes publishing the manual Cross-Cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Videos.

LUCIEN CASTAING-TAYLOR was born in 1966 in Liverpool. He studied Social Anthropology, Philosophy and Theology at the University of Cambridge and Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California. In 2000, he did a PhD in Cultural Anthropology at the University of California in Berkeley. He is currently director of the Film Study Center and the Sensory Ethnography Lab of Harvard University.

Ilisa Barbash
Focus: Freedom