Shepherd’s Song is a visually stunning documentary about Jack Thrift Anderson and Jenya Sarah Schneider, the couple behind Cuyama Lamb, whose sheep are moved across the Santa Barbara County region to restore landscapes, provide firebreaks, and grow wool. The film is showing as part of SBIFF’s Closing Night on April 10.
Director Abigail Fuller answered a few of my questions recently.
What is your filmmaking background and connection to Santa Barbara?
I moved out to Southern California to attend film school at USC in 2004. I first went to Santa Barbara to help friends at UCSB with their student films and have loved returning ever since.
Over the past 15 years I have been directing documentary films, television, and commercials, most notably the series Chef’s Table on Netflix.
Shepherd’s Song was filmed both in Goleta and the San Marcos Preserve in Santa Barbara. It is so meaningful to share the film with this community, especially now as part of the San Marcos Preserve is under threat of development. You can find out more at savesanmarcosfoothills.org.
How did you learn about Cuyama Lamb, and why did you find them worthy of a documentary?
I first learned of Cuyama Lamb through a mutual friend named Ariel Greenwood. After an initial conversation with Jenya I thought she would be an amazing collaborator on this project. I saw that Jenya and Jack were amazing role models for other young people who perhaps wanted to explore an unconventional life path. They felt an incongruence with what they saw in the world and decided to take action.
They are doing incredible work restoring grasslands and are living a deeply beautiful life in the process. I was excited at the idea of sharing their story and inspiring others in the process.
What was most surprising to learn about what they use their lambs for?
I found it very cool and interesting that they did not own any land and yet they could find contracts with fire departments and private landowners who were interested in creating fire breaks with their sheep. This seemed like not only an amazing opportunity, but also a path forward for California to reduce the threat of devastating wildfires and ecosystem degradation.
Could you live the shepherd’s life?
Jack and Jenya live in beautiful places, surrounded by livestock and wildlife. They enjoy epic views, gorgeous sunsets, and are living out a deeply meaningful and purposeful life. It’s hard work for sure, but most good work is hard and I suppose that’s part of what makes it rewarding. What’s not to envy?
I actually currently live on a large grazing operation on the East Coast, where my husband grazes cattle with similar principals, but different benefits to our local ecosystem in Northern Virginia. However, at the end of the day, my passion is filmmaking and this is the work I hope to continue for many years to come.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope they take away a greater understanding of why animals are hugely beneficial to our ecosystems and how California can use livestock as a tool to create a more sustainable future for both people and wildlife! We can participate in the healing of our ecosystems, that is the message of the Shepherd’s Song.