Filmmaker Ilisa Barbash in person for Q&A!
This breathtaking chronicle follows an ever-surprising group of modern-day cowboys as they lead an enormous herd of sheep up and then down the slopes of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana on their way to market. Call it an abstract Western or the last roundup. Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor spent three summers in Montana documenting the process by which sheep are raised, ranched, sheared, and driven hundreds of miles to graze in high pastures of Sweet Grass County. Sweetgrass is routinely awe-inspiring and often hilarious. The Big Sky Country has never looked more spectacular—or, thanks to the ranchers as well as their animals, sounded more cacophonous—and, after Sweetgrass, it will never look the same. A Cinema Guild release.
Focus on the Sensory Ethnography Lab
In a mere eight years, the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University has gone from an unusually ambitious academic program to one of the most vital incubators of nonfiction and experimental cinema in the United States. Lucien Castaing-Taylor established the SEL in 2006 on the premise that documentary and art are not mutually exclusive and that the intensive fieldwork of anthropology could nourish both. In practice this means rejecting the laziest devices in the contemporary documentarian’s tool kit: reductive story arcs, infantilizing voiceovers and talking heads, manipulative music cues. It also reconnects documentary to the work of such pioneers as Robert Flaherty and Jean Rouch, and indeed to the medium’s eternal promise as an instrument for both capturing reality and heightening the senses. The films in this selection, including work produced at the SEL and work that inspired SEL makers, attest to the aspirations of sensory ethnography: to experience the world, and to transmit some of the magnitude and multiplicity of that experience. Presented in collaboration with the 2014 Whitney Biennial.