CAPITALISM: As he tries to keep his own afloat, competition from big companies, cheap labour from the East, and smart machinery all make life increasingly difficult for one Dutch shepherd.
Emma Bakkevik
Emma Bakkevik is a translator and freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: September 7, 2019

When I imagine a shepherd, I imagine a peaceful, nomadic existence somewhere in the mountains – a lonesome character surrounded by green hills and sheep. This ancient occupation, dating back thousands of years, is something I would have thought survived only in the most rural of places,

until I watched Sheep Hero, a documentary about modern-day shepherd Stijn from the Netherlands. As a result of the film, the hardships shepherds face in current society soon contrasted my romantic vision of sheep herding.

Keeping tradition alive

Stijn became a shepherd because he wanted to keep the tradition alive, and in spite of everything, he still holds on to this ideal. When I talked to the filmmaker, Ton van Zantvoort, after the screening at Kosovo’s Dokufest, he explains his reasons for making Sheep Hero. «It’s not really about the sheep», he says, with a wry smile. «People laughed at me in the beginning, for making a film about a shepherd, but it’s a universal story. Stijn, like everyone else, has to provide for his family, so he worries about his financial situation». Apparently, making an honest living is not enough if you want to survive in this dog-eat-dog world. «My purpose is always to criticize society. I want to make people think about which way we’re going,» says van Zantvoort.

Due to the free market, companies can hire someone cheaper to graze the land where Stijn lives.

Does everything today have to be cost-efficient? In Sheep Hero, Stijn deals with countless challenges that have nothing to do with his profession; he is forced to become an entrepreneur, promoting his work at fairs and lobbying at political hearings. Due to the free market, companies can hire someone cheaper to graze where Stijn lives, resulting in him driving for hours looking for land for his own sheep. He has several such confrontations with «civilization»; at one point he is herding the sheep through town, in the middle of traffic, and people get annoyed. Then, the police give him a 300-euro fine for not picking up some droppings in the street. Things get more absurd when Stijn’s own parents go to meet the police and clean up the poo. «Back in the day people would have fought over those droppings – it makes for great fertilizer,» van Zantvoort …

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