Silent-era documentary 'Grass' screens at the Trylon

The film follows a branch of the Bakhtiari tribe of Persia--now Iran--as they make their seasonal journey along with their herds to promising locations for farming. Jointly directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Shoedsak, and Marguerite Harrison, the short depicts the struggles and hardships faced by these nomadic men, women, and children who depended on hunting, gathering, and small scale farming in order to eat, and often used caves or other available natural shelters as domiciles.

Inspired by the success of Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North, a 1922 feature about a family of Eskimos that is considered the first major documentary, Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison left the glamour of Hollywood to spend several weeks in the barren, rocky, and murderously hot climes of Persia with a culture they felt was the closest to prehistoric mankind in its customs and means of survival.

Though not as well remembered as Nanook, Grass was a box office and critical success upon its release and established Merian C. Cooper a major director and producer in Hollywood. An adventurer and aviator, Cooper was also on the founding board of directors for Pan Am airlines. Marguerite Harrison had already led a life out of the movies, spying for the U.S. in Russia just after that country's revolution. She survived two imprisonments by authorities there, the second one almost leading to a trial where she would surely have been condemned to death had the U.S. government not successfully negotiated for her release. Ernst Shoedsack would go on to co-direct the first--and inarguably the best--version of King Kong with Cooper in 1933 and have a long career of his own right as a director, producer, and cinematographer.

The real heroes of Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, though, are the Bakhtiari, who daily faced threats from the weather, wildlife, bandits, and corrupt authorities. Thanks to TakeUp Productions, local cinephiles will have the opportunity to witness not just a precursor to those explorations of far-off lands and peoples we graze over--or, too often, surf past--on PBS and The Discovery Channel.

The screening takes place 7 p.m. Friday, October 22 and Sunday, October 24, and 9:05 p.m.   Saturday, October 23 at the Trylon (3258 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis). For more info, visit

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