Centrul Astra Film
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Astra Film Festival

Astra Film Festival 2007


Transhumance Shepherds And Film

The special program Transhumance shepherds and film will consist in screening six films about different kinds of transhumance way of life in Scotland, in Iran, in Tibet, in Provence, in the Alps and in Romania. As an extension of this program, on the last day of the festival there will be a special interactive programnme in a shepherd village near Sibiu. On this occasion, shepherds from the nearby villages and the festival public will participate at screenings presenting a selection of scenes from the films included in the special Transhumance festival section, there will be discussions about transhumance life, and shepherd music from Italy, France and Romania.

There are certain recurrent subjects in the documentary film tradition and the great movements of humans and their animals in pastoralist economies is one of those. For a sedentary population there is of course something spectacular, nay miraculous about the scale of some of these movements. Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Shoedsack (the authors of the film Grass) were clearly amazed at the compex social and technological organisation of  society capable of shifting 50,000 people and all their livestock over some of the harsher mountains in Asia.

But there is something about the subject that goes beyond the spectacle and drama of humans and their animal flocks. For a sedentary population, the descendants of farmers, there is something fascinating about a way of life that is so clearly not rooted in a place or perhaps tied to very large places indeed. And then there is something about the people of the mountains. Early state systems across the planet have tried, always with difficulty, to tame those who live in the hills – these are, after all, the refuges of those in flight to avoid submission. And the hills with their poor soils are more suited to a pastoral economy – so there is perhaps an elective affinity between a kind of proud and almost martial ethic and the life of the mountain dwellers.

In these films we celebrate and explore the diverse ways of life of pastoral communities across the Eurasian landmass from the far flung islands of the west coast of Scotland to the high peaks of Tibet, as well as different filmic approaches to present this subject. On the way we pause to look at one of the classics of early silent documentary film, Grass: A nations battle for life from the early 1925. The Shepherds of Berneray by Allen Moore and Jack Shea evoke the shepherding life in the late 1970s, as part of the special conditions they live they have to move their sheep in boats from one island to the other every year. Himalaya by Eric Vali is a fiction film about the Tibetan yak herders made with a very meticulous documentation and local actors. This film makes use of the fantastic dramatic potential of these people's life style as well as the fantastic landscape of the high mountians of Tibet. François Villers shares his fascination with the live of shepherds in Provence in his film L’Eau vive (The Living Water). Shepherds from Piedmont are portrayed in Pastori (The Shepherds) by Antonio Canevarolo, and On the Road, by Dumitru Budrala highlights the Romanian transhumant shepherds' life in the post communist conditions.


Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoedsacki
Country: U.S.A.
Year: 1925
Length: 71
Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life is a 1925 silent documentary film which follows a branch of the Bakhtiari tribe of Iran as they and their herds make their seasonal journey to better pastures. It is considered one of the earliest ethnographic documentary films.The film is Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Marguerite Harrison's documentation of their journey from Angora (modern-day Ankara, Turkey) to the Bakhtiari lands of western Iran, in what is now the Chahar Mahaal va Bakhtiari province. They then follow Haidar Khan as he leads 50,000 of his people and countless animals on a harrowing trek across the Karun River and over Zard Kuh, the highest peak in the Zagros Mountains. In filming the journey, Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison became the first Westerners to make the migration with the Bakhtiari. The film highlights the extreme hardships faced by nomadic peoples, as well as the bravery and ingenuity of the Bakhtiari.

Director: Eric Valli
Country: France/ U.K.
Year: 1999
Length: 104
This film evolved from the epic life of two of  the author’s closest Tibetan friends, Tinle and Norbou. Tinle is a yakpa, or "cowboy" - a man of action, a fighter, a challenge-seeker, and a leader. Norbou is a lama and a painter - a man entirely devoted to prayers and art. When the author first met him, he had never set foot outside his monastery. Both men live in the Dolpo region, one of the highest and most isolated areas nestled deep in the Nepalese Himalayas. Protected by political and geographical barriers, the Dolpo is a truly hidden country, guarding the inviolate heart of Tibet. By uniting the lives of both characters, the film naturally emerged. Tinle became Norbou's father. The mysterious death of a family member brings them together despite their ideological differences. They must confront, with superhuman strength, an ordeal that may the whole valley's destiny. "It was essential that I remain true to my sources. The writing of the story with Olivier Dazat had to be done in cooperation with Tinle, Norbou and the other characters in the film. I intentionally prefer to use the word "characters" instead of the term "actors", because these men and women essentially played themselves in front of a camera, a new experience for most of them".
The Living Water

Director: François Villiers
Country: France
Year: 1958
Length: 95

Through the story of Hortense, l'Eau vive go deep into the question of the relation of man with the nature. The transhumance is the symbol of a symbiotic and historical relation between humans and animal nature disturbed by the technological "modernity" represented by the edification of the moutain hydrolic barrage and the consequent disorder on the global ecology of traditional life on one side, and the confusion provoked in human life, on the other side. L'Eau vive, were shepherd and sheep are the other main heroes of the story remain an ode to nature and the questions approached are still of a very great actuality.

On The Road

Director: Dumitru Budrala
Country: Romania
Year: 1998
Length: 45
Every autumn, shepherds from Transylvania set off with their flocks in search of green grass. They follow an ancient route which takes them hundreds of miles away from home. During his journey, the master of a flock is murdered in a forest. His youngest son must take over one thousand sheep, five donkeys, seven dogs and four hired shepherds. Sleeping in the open, marching through villages and fields, fighting bad weather and truck drivers’ prejudice, he learns to be a master.
The Shepherds

Director: Antonio Canevarolo
Country: Italy
Year: 2006

Three shepherds of the Piedmontese valley of Biella are living proofs of and ancient way of life, as old as the history of human race itself. Towards the end of spring, they leave the lowlands for the mountains, following the footsteps of their ancestors. They are accompanied by dogs, a few donkeys and the flocks of sheep. They must set off looking for pasture until the coming of fall. It is a sight that one sees less and less these days, but not long ago, this practice used to be passed on from generation to generation. Nowadays, there are just a few of them left and very soon there will be nobody willing to live this kind of life, away from the comfort offered by the modern world.

The Shepherds Of Berneray

Director: Allen Moore, Jack Shea
Country: U.S.A./ U.K.
Year: 2006
Length: 54
Berneray is a small island in the Outer Hebrides from which many families were displaced in the past to make way for sheep. Follows the work of the shepherds over the course of a year, with Gaelic songs and stories, interwoven with interviews. Different pressures are now forcing people to move away from the island, and the film raises the question of whether it will be able to avoid the fate of neighbouring islands, now used solely for winter grazing of sheep. Documentary tracing the life of the island and its people through the changing of the seasons, concentrating on the sheep and fishing industries of the island. A Scottish independent film made by two Americans, Allen Moore and Jack Shea.