Every year in late winter, the Villards transport the herd on trucks from the Fortification Valley west past Elk Springs, where the sheep will pass the winter in more favorable climes.

Yuri Chicovsky

Every year in late winter, the Villards transport the herd on trucks from the Fortification Valley west past Elk Springs, where the sheep will pass the winter in more favorable climes.

Moffat County sheep ranching documentary moves into post-production

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A documentary following the story of the Villard sheep ranch is moving into post-production.

Yuri Chicovsky sought funds for his film, Sage Country, via the crowd-funding site called Kickstarter, and as of Friday, he surpassed his goal of $25,000 by more than $6,000.

His next step is to pull the film together — and most of the work, from the soundtrack to the editing, Chicovsky will do himself.

“Post-production right now feels like an ocean that I have to cross. I’m doing it in such a way that I’m doing most of the work,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s what I like to do, so I’m really happy to do what I legitimately think I’m the best at and get paid to do it. That’s very pleasing to me.”

Chicovsky has been captivated with the West and the “sheep people” for nearly 15 years.

After a transformative hunting trip — stalking antelope on the Western Slope with a bow — he decided to devote a substantial part of his life to this project.

He even turned down a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“I really remembered a lot of the things that made me tick after quite a few years on the west coast in the big city. It really hit me. I decided I was going to give up my scholarship and go to Craig and make the movie,” he said.

Chicovsky spent about four years filming “Sage Country” — not always sure what it would turn into.

“I struggled for a long time to find what the movie is about, mostly because sheep people just don’t talk a lot,” he said, and laughed. “It’s not as easy to piece a story together without dialogue.

“So all I did was show up with my camera and film. It’s like filming a dance or ballet: Because the actual work these people do is very beautiful to me.”

Moffat County resident Shirley Steele has long admired Chicovsky’s work.

“I was a sheep rancher, and I know what the perils are. I know how hard it is,” she said.

Chicovsky took photos of her ranch as well as the Villard ranch, and Steele looks forward to seeing them.

“It’s a good life, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I really appreciate all the work he’s done for sheep ranchers.”

But Chicovsky is just as appreciative.

“I’m terrified and extremely pleased. I very much appreciate the support of the community there. There have been some really kind people who I met there who helped me out tirelessly along the way,” he said.

It was Chicovsky’s goal to authentically capture the life of this culture.

“I just wanted to communicate the magic of the place,” he said. The “pungent smell of sage brush really permeates my memories from childhood.

“The whole time I’ve really wanted to figure out how to communicate that kind of smell on the screen. I want people to leave knowing what that place smells and feels like.”

Chicovsky, who lives in Evergreen, plans to take the film to as many festivals as he can and wants to wrap up post-production before September so he can submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.

“There’ll be a lot of exposure,” he said. “This is the real West. It’s not a Hollywood movie. It’s good for me to realize there really is romance in the West, and it’s not just in movies. And I found it.”

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com.

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