Monday, August 06, 2012

Winter Nomads

Quick now, what does transhumance mean? If you don't know you almost certainly didn't watch Winter Nomads. This documentary follows two shepherds, three donkeys, four or five dogs and 800 sheep across Switzerland one winter. The older shepherd, Pascal, is passing on his knowledge to newbie, Carole. Both are strong willed; he is a verbally abusive teacher (perhaps more used to training dogs than people) and she is a recalcitrant pupil. The animals too are interesting characters. From the puppy who is as cute as advertised in the Film Festival program. A sheep, later named Marilyn, who decided she wanted to become a bellwether, so Carol bought it a bell and collar and taught it to lead. The donkeys who hate mud and become concerned when one of their number falls down.

Transhumance is a tradition that seems very out of place in a modern industrial country. They herd the sheep with one person feeding treats (bread) to the bellwethers at the front and the other near the back of the flock to watch for stragglers. Their tent and other gear are carried on the donkeys. Despite this being an old tradition it seems to have only recently passed into Swiss hands. When Pascal learnt the trade 32 years ago all the shepherds were Italian and the shepherd who taught him spoke no French. Now Pascal fears with increasing urbanisation moving sheep on foot across country will become too difficult and the tradition will die with his generation.

This gentle documentary doesn't try to preach. While Carol is in a supermarket buying food for xmas dinner we hear an advert for NZ lamb, but no comment is made. On another night some friends arrive out of the dark and the four of them eat fondue cooked over a camp fire by moonlight and discuss why Carol decided to try this way of life so different from her previous office job.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Anne thinks I should have given a definition of transhumance, but I'll let Wikipedia do it for me.

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