Saturday, 31 July 2010
A slow gently-paced documentary about sheep and sheep-herders? Mmmm, sounds riveting.
For the first third of the film it seemed liked the director was happy for the film to amble off down an inconsequential path. It looked nice, but it lacked focus – shots of sheep being herded into a pen, sheep being shorn, lambs being birthed then reared – all fine, but rather ho-hum. Unlike other cinema verite approaches, there appeared to be no engagement with the subject, just a disinterested taste of being-there.
But when a flock of of several hundred sheep are herded into the Montana mountains for summer pasture, then the film finds it's direction. By narrowing the focus to two herders, alone on the mountain with their horses, sheep-dogs, and sheep, the film took on a sense of verve and vigour. Nothing overtly dramatic occurred, but a relationship starts to develop between the camera and the herders, and this newfound relationship begins to alter everything we see. The flock of sheep take on a new context, become more than just sheep. The whole herding experience is shown as a delicately-balanced relationship between man, his horse and dod, and the swathes of sheep that teem across the face of the mountain. The fragility of this particular tradition and vocation come to light in the exposition of herders grappling with the elements, with predators, and with the frustration of having to tend to flocks of wayward and peripatetic creatures.