Walking among the ‘Herd’

Michel Negreponte

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Walking among the ‘Herd’

‘Herd,” a film by Michel Negreponte, will be screening at The Norfolk Library on Saturday April 13 at 5:30 p.m. This mesmerizing documentary investigates the relationship between humans and other sentient beings by following a herd of shaggy Belted Galloway cattle through a little more than a year of their lives.

Negreponte and his wife have had a second home just outside of Livingston Manor, in the southwest corner of the Catskills, for many years. Like many during the pandemic, they moved up north for what they thought would be a few weeks, and now seldom return to their city dwelling. Adjacent to their property is a privately owned farm and when a herd of Belted Galloways arrived, Negreponte realized the subject of his new film.

“You know, I’ve never made a nature documentary,” Negreponte shared. “That’s not really my thing, but once I found myself in upstate New York during the pandemic, I made several short films about the environment, about the land around me. They were mini essays, meditations. One of them was about my dog. That kind of led me into this longer project, which I also call an essay film. I’d like to say it’s a personal essay film, and a meditation.”

Early in the film, with the background of a heartbeat as soundtrack, a quote comes across the screen explaining, “Cows are adagio. 65 to 75 beats per minute.” This deliberate slowing down of pace lends a quiet to the narrative and allows for profound reflections on themes of motherhood, community, and humanity’s place in the natural world. “I think that the subject matter and the cows asked for a particularly delicate and peaceful approach. That is their temperament and their pace, and I certainly appreciate the vibe they give out,” Negreponte added.

Filmed throughout 2022, the film is chronological, following the herd through an erratic winter and the seasons of birth and death.

“It’s a very organic process,” said Negreponte of his technique of editing while filming. “It’s a process that I’ve developed over many years of making films and it suits the way I work.”

Using one camera, long shots linger on the lumbering giants as they navigate harsh weather, calve their young, protect, fight, and play with one another. Negreponte filmed parts of his own body in moments, “breaking the fourth wall,” as he explained, a technique that adds to the intimacy.

Throughout the film, there are other clips interspersed that Negreponte calls, “archival sections,” though not all the footage is historical. There are images of Hitler juxtaposed with images of Ghandi. The hunting and eventual extinction of wild Buffalo in the American West, and images showing reverence for cows in ancient cultures. From the horrors of industrial farming and animal exploitation to the clear communication and collective consciousness present, “Herd” confronts the viewer with humanity’s capacity for both cruelty and compassion.

By inviting audiences to slow down and reconnect with the natural world, “Herd” serves as a timely reminder of the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Negreponte shared, “I can’t help but think that people may think twice about their eating habits. I certainly think we can do better and adjust our diets so we’re less cruel to the animals around us.”

The owners of the farm have decided that the cattle are now pets, due in large part to the effect that “Herd” has had on them. The cows will now be used primarily to fertilize the fields.

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