Monday, February 22, 2010

Film chronicles end of sheep operation

The aluminum-walled sheep wagon hasn’t moved for years. Elaine and Lawrence Allestad used to use it when they took their sheep up into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Now it is parked in front of a two-story house in a subdivided cow pasture. The Allestads sold their 5,000-acre ranch near Rapelje and their grazing allotments in the wilderness in 2006, marking the end of an era for sheep grazing in Sweet Grass County. Lawrence Allestad’s family had run sheep in the area since the early 1900s, and as many as 30 bands of sheep once grazed in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness at one time. Now, a documentary following the Allestads’ sheep operation in those final years entitled “Sweetgrass,” by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, is making waves in cinematic circles nationwide. The New York Times called it “essential,” “graceful” and “astonishingly beautiful.” “Impressive,” the New Yorker review said. Castaing-Taylor spent three summers with the Allestads, filming and helping with the sheep drives. In all, the film took eight years to complete. When he began filming in 2001, he did not know 2003 would be the last summer sheep would be grazed in the wilderness area. But Castaing-Taylor, an anthropology professor at Harvard University, did know he was capturing a disappearing the way of more

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