When I imagine a shepherd, I imagine a solitary figure surrounded by green hills and sheep – a peaceful, nomadic existence high up in the mountains. I would have thought that this old profession, dating back many thousands of years, was something only found in very rural areas. Until I saw Sheep Hero, the documentary about the modern shepherd Stijn from the Netherlands.
Stijn chose to be a shepherd to keep the tradition alive, and despite a lot of reluctance, he stuck to his ideals.
When I meet the filmmaker, Ton van Zantvoort, after the screening during the Dokufest in Kosovo, he elaborates on why he made Sheep Hero.
"The film is not about sheep," he says with a wry smile.
"In the beginning, people laughed at me because I made a movie about a shepherd, but this is a universal story. Stijn, like most of us, has to feed his family, so he worries about his financial situation. ”Honest work is no longer enough; today one must have pointed elbows and "make it in the world". “My goal is always to criticize society. I want people to think about what direction we're going in, ”says the filmmaker.
Is cost efficiency always the best? IN Sheep Hero Stijn must deal with countless challenges that really have nothing to do with his profession; he is forced to become an entrepreneur and has to advertise his work at trade fairs as well as lobbying during political hearings.
The free market allows companies to hire low-paid herds, so Stijn has to spend hours behind the wheel to look for new pastures for their sheep.
What do we really need before we shift our focus from profit to intrinsic value?
During the film he has several such confrontations with "civilization"; In one case he shepherds his flock through a small town, in the middle of traffic, to the great annoyance of motorists. Then he gets a fine of 300 euros from the police for not picking up all the sheep's milk from the street. It all becomes absurd as Stijn's parents go down to meet the police and sweep the muck. "In the old days, people would fight over the muck – that's good fertilizer," comments van Zantvoort. Things have changed.
SHEEP HERO was October 2019 movie of the month.
The film's sheep hero becomes a kind of anti-hero. Stijn tries in vain to find new ways to make money by offering grilled sheep meat and cutting the sheep for public viewing. The vain attempts to temper his mood, he gets stressed and argumentative.
I get frustrated on his behalf – under pressure from the profit hunt he is forced out of his comfort zone. Must it be so? Do we really have to follow these rules? Stijn is not a political activist; he is merely trying to be an independent shepherd – but it is enough that he poses a threat to the system.
Van Zantvoort invites us to see what he sees. “The question is: How can you live in a world that clashes with one's values? And the conclusion is that it is very difficult. You must follow the rules; you have to work, pay rent and insurance, and live an A4 life, otherwise you won't fit in. ” The eternal pursuit of economic growth, paradoxically, creates a social model in which the opportunities become less. We are trapped in a rigid structure where there is no room for a sustainable way of life – it simply is not profitable nok.
“Today, even sheep hunters must work within neoliberalism. "He's not an entrepreneur, exactly," people say – no, and that's why he was a shepherd, "van Zantvoort points out. The filmmaker admits that he is rather pessimistic. "We're stuck in this system. Stijn tried to escape, but it didn't work. I hope people will wake up, but if we do not change the economy, we will continue to produce more and more, and it will not – even a child will understand. But people prefer to stick their heads in the sand. "
I remember something Stijn says early in the film, as he explains that the sheep preserve the biodiversity of the pastures they graze on, while the machines used by the big companies destroy the earth. In other words, the traditional method is far better for the environment, but it is asked whether our time, which is obsessed with saving money, is willing to choose quality over profit. What do we really need before we shift our focus from profit to intrinsic value?
My romantic image of sheep herding soon had to give way to reality. In the fight against bureaucracy and market liberalism, Stijn and the family eventually have to make the difficult decision to send the sheep to the butcher to save the economy, and the film ends on a somewhat discouraging note.
But as long as there is life, there is hope. For some reason I am inspired by Stijn's story. Although he still fails, he does not give up – he does not intend to let the system win.
Van Zantvoort uses the story of Stijn to say something general about the world, and wants the film's message to hit the audience. "As a documentary, I have a duty to tell these stories. The film should basically speak for itself. Hopefully it makes people reflect and act. I've done mine; now it's their turn. "
If we start to think of the economic system that oppresses us, we will never have freedom. We must take it back to being alive. Otherwise, we become passive spectators for our ideals to be trampled on the pillar.
Sheep Hero is the movie of the month.
If you are a subscriber, you can see it here.