Grass, released in 1925, stands as one of the earliest ethnographic documentary films, rivalled in the silent era only by Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922). While Nanook is a fine film, it has come under criticism for not being totally journalistically accurate. Grass, on the other hand, is a more genuine scientific document of its subject–in this case, the annual migration of a southwestern Iranian nomadic tribe, the Bakhtiari. Merian C. Cooper ( writer and producer), along with Ernest B. Schoedsack (photographer) and Marguerite Harrison (journalist), undertook to join the Bakhtiari on their arduous annual journey and produced an early masterpiece of silent film documentary. As part of the ongoing series of
“Treasures from The Dalenberg Library,” we present here what we would now call the “movie tie-in book,” written by Cooper and including 64 of Schoedsack’s photographs: Grass, by Merian C. Cooper (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/The Knickerbocker Press, 1925.)
Cooper and Schoedsack went on to produce other films together, most notably King Kong. They maintained a partnership until the late 1930’s, generally with Cooper producing and Schoedsack directing. Another on-location docudrama project was Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, filmed in the jungles of Thailand.
The Bakhtiari migration was again filmed, this time by director Anthony Howarth, for the 1976 documentary People of the Wind. Since then, what little can be gleaned on-line suggests that the nomads are now mostly transporting their herds between summer and winter pastures by truck. Despite the erosion of a centuries-old way of life in the past 40 years, Iran is still remarkable for having about 1.5 million nomads among its population of over 70 million.