FEATURE FILM REVIEW
OCEAN OF GRASS - LIFE ON A NEBRASKA SANDHILLS RANCH
Cows don’t know it’s Sunday, they don’t know it’s the 4th of July, there ain’t no Christmas for a cow.
I'LL TELL YOU WHAT, folks, you don’t want to let a Black Angus get angry, know what I mean? Following the story of the McGinn Ranch, this documentary called “Ocean Of Grass” was indeed something else to witness. For some of you out there, you might very well be familiar with a similar way of life, like being on a farm or some ranch yourself – but for myself, way up here in Canada - a long, long way from Nebraska, this was all new to me. So heck ya, I was interested in this film! I love learning about anything I have no idea about, and this documentary gives us all insight into what it really takes to be a rancher.
I REALLY ENJOYED THE DEGREE OF HONESTY YOU'LL FIND IN THIS DOCUMENTARY.
You have to feed these cows, water’em, take care of’em, be there for calving season – you’ve even gotta sort them out from time to time. It’s no part-time gig, y’all, there is a ton involved with making a life and career from cattle ranching, and the dedication and hard work that goes into it deserves universal respect. These folks you’ll see are the proverbial salt of the earth; they’re as real as it gets from the cowboys to the ranch hands, the workers and owners – everyone is in this life together, and it’s as genuine as it gets. Films like this are a great reminder that while we all come from different places and do different things in this life, we’re all leading and have so much more in common than we tend to realize.
I really enjoyed the degree of honesty you’ll find in this documentary. Much like you’d imagine would go with honest folks that’ll tell you like it is or do what needs to be done, “Ocean Of Grass” tends to follow a similar path in that regard and just lay out the facts plain as day, so we get an honest look at the life they’re leading. At some point in time, I knew they’d have to approach some tougher issues – it’s not like there isn’t any controversy in cattle ranching; there is at least a little in all walks of life. For this industry, a lot of that would revolve around the issue of branding, which, as the film will tell ya, is often seen as cruel by the outside world. While I would have included myself in that assessment before watching “Ocean Of Grass,” I still have a few questions about whether or not there could potentially be another alternative, like tagging or marking the animals in a different way other than hot freakin’ iron – I will readily admit they make a good case for it not being nearly as bad of a process as you might think and they’re unafraid of showing it to us onscreen. That kind of detail and level of honesty matters to me – it reveals the integrity in what the McGinn Ranch does. It’s never going to be the happiest moment in a cow’s lifetime, I’m sure, but they do talk about how quickly they move on from the event, how it’s not nearly as traumatic as some might assume, and of course, how necessary it is for the business they’re running. They also deal directly with many hardships, death, lightning storms…and being the people that are responsible for putting the animals down when necessary. While that latter aspect is never going to be a fun issue, I think it was extremely important that we see how devastating it can be for a rancher to have to put down a horse or an animal they’ve been raising – it takes a toll on them; they’re like family.
... THEY'LL ALSO EXPLAIN THE FINANCIAL ASPECT OF RUNNING A RANCH AND HOW TOUGH THAT CAN BE.
Outside of ranch life, they’ll show you some really impressive stuff as well. Laron McGinn, for instance, has “created over 500 paintings and drawings,” which are now displayed worldwide in different private collections, and they’re really quite something! I’ll never admit to knowing anything technical about art, but I know what I like and what interests me. I was fascinated to see this side of a rancher’s life in this film; it was an entirely unexpected dimension of “Ocean Of Grass.” The use of color, the detail, the expressive nature of Laron’s paintings, and how they document life in so many unique ways was truly beyond impressive and a wonderfully endearing aspect of this movie that I’ll honestly remember.
Economically, they’ll also explain the financial aspect of running a ranch and how tough that can be – if not outright impossible in today’s world. Whereas land used to be within the possibility of buying, it’s now basically out of reach for many of those out there with the expertise and know-how to run it. That essentially leaves the entire industry with no choice but to pass their job down over generations. They also deal with many aspects of the effects of the community; in particular, this story will dive into an extremely endearing story of one dude getting cancer and how the whole town rallies in support of him. Everything and everyone is tied together in some way, shape, or form – and it’s completely fascinating how utterly interconnected and essential each aspect of their lives is to another in order to be successful.
THE MCGINN FAMILY, AND THE WORKERS THEY EMPLOY, REPRESENT SOME OF THE VERY BEST OF THE PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET WE SHARE.
Some of these places they’ll take you to, like a town called Dunning, have a total population estimated between 70-120 people! So you better believe they know exactly who their neighbors are – they ultimately rely heavily on each other for a wide variety of reasons, and you really understand how crucial that unity becomes in their way of life by looking through the lens of this documentary. The shots of the landscape, the editing, the sequencing of this story, and how it’s shown to us onscreen is extremely neat to watch and outright beautiful in many ways. Credit to the direction of Georg Joutras and how he got right up close into the action, we all feel like we’re right there on the ranch puttin’ in a hard day’s work. The McGinn family, and the workers they employ, represent some of the very best of our people on this planet we share. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to step into their world for a moment through what we see in “Ocean Of Grass” – this was extremely well thought-out and assembled and genuinely stunning to watch from start to finish. For its scenery and content, an easy four stars out of five for me.
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