Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass ★★★½

Though I haven't seen People's Park yet, I prefer the human experiments of Harvard SEL to their animal ones (or even a better way, their travelogues than their struggles of daily life ones). Barbash and Castaing-Taylor must've realized they hit the jackpot with the sheep staring in the camera moment and thus used it as a Great Train Robbery opening so people who would otherwise dismiss the work have to pay attention. For a while, besides the use of long takes and lack of expositional voice-over, there is not much to really signify this as all that different from a conventional documentary, and while watching the amusing scene of trying to get the mother into the pen with its new lamb is fascinating in how long it takes, there were times where I wanted to know more about these people and their work, especially given that the film I think perhaps unfairly leaves its punchline for the end.

The low-grade digital aesthetic, especially when seen blown up on 35mm, doesn't do much favors - occasionally it makes the sheep blend into a sea of white where individuals become a community, but mostly it looks garish and unfocused. Some of the shot choices here reveal much more about the filmmakers than their subject, like an edit between a herd of mountain goats and the human travelers, or that long take on the mountains during the phone call, poetic gestures that feels somewhat all too neat in a film with some real messiness. In the end, the entire film feels much more like a Rorschach test of meaning, which is totally fine - it's fun to watch sheep.