By Darius Kadivar
Bakhtiary tribes and their yearly migration accross the persian landscapes
and their physical and moral endeavors seem to have been fascinating enough
to become a subject for two now classic films made by Hollywood Directors.
The First Grass: A Nations Battle for Life (1925) made by the future
producers of "King Kong" and the Second the Oscar nominated 1976 documentary
film "People of the Wind" narrated by James Mason.
"Grass: A Nations Battle for Life"
(photo courtesy Cinerama, Inc)
Merian C. Cooper ((1893 - 1973) is well known in the motion picture industry
for his long list of pioneering ventures. He met Ernest B. Schoedsack in
Poland during World War I and the two intrepid travelers decided to
collaborate on making Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925), showing the
migratory habits of' the Bakhtiari tribe in Iran.
Grass begins with Cooper, Schoedsack, and their third colleague, Marguerite
Harrison, photographing themselves. Cooper is seen smoking a pipe, and a
title card identifies him as "The engineer who conceived the idea of
recording the migration."
In the next shot, Cooper consults with Schoedsack, "whose camera recorded
the experience." Lastly, we are introduced to Harrison, dressed in safari
gear, looking like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Marie Dressler. She
is identified as an "author and traveler."
After this moment in the spotlight, the two men disappear behind the camera.
But the meaning is clear -- this is their film, their version of the events.
"Hollywood pioneer Merian C. Cooper
makes his filmaking debut with Grass"
(photo courtesy Cinerama, Inc)
Grass sets out along a caravan rout "worn by the passing feet of centuries."
Moving east through ancient villages and blinding sandstorms, the filmmakers
reach a primitive settlement of goat-hair tents.
Here, the village chieftain, Haidar, and his son become the focus of the
film. A drought has parched the plains, so Haidar gives the order to pack up
and begin the journey to feed their flocks in greener pastures.
Men, women and children laden with tents and supplies herd their animals
across immense distances, across raging rivers and up steep rocky mountain
slopes. Barefoot, they climb through the snows of Zardeh Kuh where the
camera captures amazing images.
The filmmakers exposed audiences to scenes they didn't want to see, such as
young animals drowning in the current of a river. These scenes seemed too
harsh and perhaps that's why the film wasn't as commercially successful as
Robert Flaherty's Nanoonk of the North (1922).
However far from being discouraged, the collaboration between Cooper and
Schoedsack extended into feature films with exotic backgrounds, the most
famous of which was the legendary King Kong (1933), a classic in the
"People of the Wind" Oscar nominated in 1976"
(photocourtesy Tapeworm Studio)
In 1975 precisely fifty years after Merian C. Coopers and Ernest B.
Schoedsack's 1925 Odyssey 'Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life' , Anthony
Howarth and David Koff decide to pay tribute to their daunting predecessors
in another Documentary illustrating the same journey, only the reverse trip.
This time in color this documentary entitled " People of the Wind " shot
in 1975 and released in 1976 allowed the film crew to focus on one
particular tribesman leader of the Babahdi tribe whose words, translated
into English and read by the actor James Mason, tell the timeless story of
the great migration.
In western Iran the Bakhtiari tribe must make an annual 8-week, 200 mile
trip to the mountain summer pastures. In this hazardous test of human
endurance, we embark on an outstanding migration that takes a 500,000 men,
women, and children, their livestock (one million animals) and all their
possessions across the Zagros Mountains, a range which is as high as the
Alps and as broad as Switzerland.
The tribesman relates the traditional rituals of life for the Bakhtiari,
from how they tend their animals to their elaborate wedding feasts, and over
the course of the film the tribe's unique mountain culture emerges. His
story is as compelling, as it is amazing. It is difficult to believe that a
people would so endure a journey of such hardship year after year.
There is no road through the mountain, only trails or passages worn over
time. It is, indeed, rough and rugged terrain over which to cross. The
people climb, without roaps, these 15,000 foot peaks, herding along their
livestock, in clothing and footwear that does not inure them to the ravages
of frostbite and illness. You see young children herding animals on
precipices that would give most people shivers. The movie takes you on a
wonderful trip into the most savage, yet splendid scenery of inner Iran. The
music only amplifies your joyous odyssey from numerous river crossings and
It is a primitive, yet communal way of life. The film provides the viewer
with a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle of these robust and proud
A credit should be given to the film's astonishing wide-screen photography
which offers sweeping mountain panoramas that take the viewer out into the
dangerous precipices of the Zardeh Kuh mountain and into the icy waters of
the Cholbar river.
Fifty years after Cooper & Schoedsack's challenging Documentary , the
producers of " People of the Wind " prove that the Bakhtiari's are still a
fascinating people by offering us a stunning saga of survival with scenes
which have to this day something of Biblical force and intensity.
For present day viewers it would be interesting to know if the migration has
changed in present-day Iran.
Both films are available on amazon.com:
Grass:A Nations Battle for Life
People of the Wind
You can learn more a bout Merian C. Cooper and prolific carreer as a
producer after the success of Grass at:
About the author:
Darius Kadivar was born to an Iranian father and French mother,and lives and
works currently in France as a multimedia documentalist. Interested in
movies and particularily historic Epics made by Hollywood's Golden Age in
the 50's and 60's. He has contributed a number of articles on movies for
various on-line magazines.
... Payvand News - 1/29/03 ... --