Shepherd Stijn has a romantic worldview, but his idealism clashes with the harsh reality of having to be a modern entrepreneur. In this poignant and cinematic documentary we come close to Stijn and his family their quest to keep the tradition of sheep herding alive. Will his struggle pay off or is he forced to go with the flock?
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Ten years ago, director Ton van Zantvoort became friends with one of the last traditional shepherds in the Netherlands. He had a perfect life: a loving wife, a flock of sheep, and was living in nature as we all once did and often still long for. Throughout the years the filmmaker noticed how the relaxed, cheerful and passionate shepherd was becoming bitter and increasingly short-tempered. A traditional shepherd losing his hair overnight, because of extreme stress: what a paradox. Was herding sheep not supposed to be the most relaxed and romantic profession in the world? ‘The silent heath is no longer quiet. There is a war going on in the heathlands’ and so the story began.
Stijn’s environment is closing in on him. In an overregulated society his quest for freedom is a struggle almost too hard to bear. His resentment is palpable, but there is also his stubbornness and determination to see it through to the end. He wants to keep his herd and the heathlands healthy and faces many obstacles along the way. Who looks out for the cultural heritage that is sheep herding? And are we able to salvage beauty amongst all our freeways and advancing industrial zones and suburbs. Life will be irrevocably different if the herd goes, as with it the craft will also vanish. Is it too late to save Stijn’s dream?
With no voice-over and very little interviews, this 86-minute cinematic story is told in an observational cinema vérité style. Where Stijn goes, the camera follows and, as in direct cinema, we become unaware of the camera’s presence.
The feature-length documentary shows the hardships of herding sheep in today’s neoliberal world and the harsh reality of a contemporary entrepreneur trying to keep his business going. Anything but a dream job. Will his struggle pay off or is he forced to go with the flock?
Ten years ago I became friends with Stijn, one of the last traditional shepherds in the Netherlands. He had a perfect life, a loving wife, was living in nature as we all once did and often still long for. Throughout the years however, I noticed how the relaxed, cheerful and passionate shepherd became bitter and increasingly short-tempered. A traditional shepherd losing his hair overnight, because of extreme stress. How paradoxical. Was herding sheep not supposed to be the most relaxed and romantic profession in the world? ‘The silent heath is no longer quiet. There is a war going on,’ Stijn said to me and so the story began.
We live in a world that is defined by economic laws and this has penetrated deeply into one of the most romantic professions in the world. How does Stijn deal with the frustration of losing control over his existence?
In many ways I am like Stijn. We both live in a world that is at odds with our ideals. I too chose an insecure, creative existence because of my ideals. I am passionate, emotional and also feel outrage against the injustice in the world. In my own way I try to contribute to a better world by making films about these topics. I too experience the tension, pressure and stress that Stijn has, having a family to take care of. I too am a small entrepreneur who cannot escape innovation. Wouldn’t we all like to go back to nature, to real life, to what it’s all about? But how far should you go to try and realize your ideals? And isn’t it easier to just follow the herd?
I see the world around me as a visual, narrative source. Looking at, wondering about and consciously experiencing what is happening around me is a feeling I am trying to instill in the audience. As a filmmaker I look for themes that may seem to only represent small and everyday issues, but I use them to discuss bigger, universal themes. Not in order to make a didactic statement but to encourage viewers to think about themselves, about the world we live in and about what binds us as people.
My films are about people I meet; about the world we live in and how small it has become. Looking back at my films, many protagonists share the same motivation. They are all trying to live and realize their dreams. People who hold up a confronting mirror to us in our relatively carefree existence. These people who suffer the consequences of our capitalist economy, which can only be maintained if there is sufficient growth and profit. That’s why we have to always consume more and produce quicker. It is a paradigm of in infinite growth on a finite planet. The unabated global economic growth with its large-scale destruction of global ecosystems, which brings financial gain to only few and high social costs to many, is no longer tenable. Although a growing number of people realize this, there are only few who actually do something about it. People who go against the current, or strive for their ideals, regardless of the cost. This is what appealed to me when I met Stijn. He made a conscious choice for a different, more sustainable lifestyle. But is such a lifestyle still an option in our current society?
MORE ABOUT DIRECTOR – Ton van Zantvoort
Ton van Zantvoort is a graduate from the Academy for Visual Arts in Breda. In 2006 his debut film Grito de Piedra premiered at IDFA and was broadcast by ARTE/ZDF and other stations. His second feature A Blooming Business, a co-production with the Dutch VPRO, was screened at major lm festivals, broadcast worldwide and won a dozen awards, such as at DOK Leipzig. In addition to producing his own documentary films, van Zantvoort has also produced documentaries for other directors: Day is Done by acclaimed director Guido Hendrikx (premiered at IDFA), Falling by Jef Monté and recently a feature length film about the enigmatic artist Dick Verdult. Besides longer films van Zantvoort has made dozens of short (art) films, gives master classes at (art) academies in Europe and Canada and was a jury member for several international film festivals and for organizations such as Panasonic International.
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