Sweetgrass

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The woolly beasts rush toward the camera, bleating and baaing and falling over each other. They get sheered, shoved around and, in one extraordinary sequence, pulled straight out of their mother’s womb and thrown into a slimy pile. (Given the graphic camel birth in last year’s NYFF pick Tulpan, such you-are-there scenes of animals pushing out their young seems to have become a prerequisite for being fast-track fest-selected.) Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s documentary may be dedicated to preserving the dying art of sheepherding, as practiced by modern-day cowboys in the Montana’s Beartooth Mountains, but it’s really a love letter to the sheep themselves: These pliant, passive creatures are shown gracefully galloping down mountainsides in ecstatic-poetic shots that would make Werner Herzog envious. And save one frustrated cowpoke who unleashes a gloriously vulgar tirade, every human you meet here seems positively dull in comparison. The film’s free-form format occasionally offers some breathtaking moments, but not enough to outweigh an overall feeling of inertia; anybody expecting bigger-picture commentary is bound to leave feeling fleeced. Saturday, Sept 26 at 2:15pm—David Fear

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New York Film Festival 2009

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