Sheepdogs Featured in New Documentary
(Jan. 1, 2013) Just this past October, Sheep Industry News (SIN) ran a story about the Solider Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championships, describing the event, its people and its sheep. An entertaining new documentary has just been released which dives much more deeply into the people and the competition. Documentary filmmaker Andrew Hadra traveled to South Africa, Ireland, Canada and across the United States to capture the story. SIN recently spoke with him about the film.
SIN: What made you decide to make a film about sheepdog trials?
Hadra: I went to the Soldier Hollow Classic several years ago as a spectator, and just fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe how smart and athletic the dogs were. The true partnership they have with their handler is extraordinary, and I wanted to use that partnership to tell a story about the larger relationship between man and dog, which is a relationship that I, and millions of people around the world truly cherish. Plus, there is real drama inherent to any sporting competition, and I knew that drama, combined with different locations around the world and the motion of the sport itself, would create something highly cinematic.
SIN: How does the sheep industry figure in to your movie?
Hadra: The competition is built around sheep, sheep people and herding dogs. One of our three main characters, Faansie Basson, is a sheep farmer who works 1,500 ewes on his farm in South Africa. I’d never been on a working sheep farm until we went to his place to film his day-to-day life there. It was so beautiful, and so interesting! In one way, Faansie’s dogs are simply one more tool that he uses in his sheep business. In another way, they are highly trusted colleagues and friends. The documentary shows a glimpse into the industry, and people outside of livestock production are genuinely struck by it.
Before I started doing the movie, I didn’t realize the number of people who raise and manage sheep strictly for the benefit of their dogs. I got the same warning several times — “First, you get a border collie. Then, you get a couple of acres and a few sheep for it. Then, before you know it, you own a farm out in the country with 150 sheep and you’re trying to figure out how to make the farm pay for itself.” Apparently it’s a slippery slope, and there are many ways into the industry!
SIN: Did anything about the sheep surprise you or your audiences?
Hadra: Definitely. I was actually quite surprised at the number of different sheep breeds and how different they all look! I wish we could have included some of the footage from Ireland, because some of those sheep were very different. I thought the blackheaded Dorper sheep in South Africa were particularly interesting. People like me who are not used to the sheep world actually find it all visually very interesting.
SIN: What about Utah’s range ewes? How do they stack up?
Hadra: Actually, the sheep at Soldier Hollow have the reputation amongst the handlers (competitors) as being the toughest, most difficult sheep virtually anywhere in the world. I heard that over and over from people. Prior to the competition, they haven’t been worked in small numbers by the dogs, if at all. They’re big, and they stand their ground. Lots of times, the sheep will actually dominate the dogs — they don’t necessarily just passively take what the dogs give them, and there are a couple of very exciting scenes in the film of them standing up for themselves. It’s great to watch! The challenging sheep and hillside terrain make Soldier Hollow one of the most prestigious and respected events in the world to compete in as a result.
SIN: What are your hopes for the film’s audience?
Hadra: Two things. First and foremost, I hope the audience enjoys the film as straight entertainment. It actually feels a lot more like a “narrative” or fiction story than it does a documentary. So I hope people simply connect to the story. Second, I hope that the film can help raise the profile of events like Soldier Hollow, which are so much fun, and so exciting to watch. The sport has a huge audience in Ireland and the UK. I know if sheepdog trials had some visibility in the United States, with our insatiable appetite for all kinds of sports, it would catch on in a big way.
You can learn more and purchase the DVD on the movie’s website at http://sheepdogmovie.com and check its Facebook page at Away To Me (Sheepdog Movie).