Grass (1925 film)

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Grass 1925.jpg
Directed by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Produced by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by Terry Ramsaye
Starring Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Marguerite Harrison
Haidar Khan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • March 20, 1925 (1925-03-20)
Running time
71 min
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925) is a silent documentary film[1] which follows a branch of the Bakhtiari tribe of Lurs in Iran as they and their herds make their seasonal journey to better pastures. It is considered one of the earliest ethnographic documentary films. It was written by Richard Carver[2] and Terry Ramsaye.


The film is Merian C. Cooper,[1] Ernest Schoedsack,[1] and Marguerite Harrison's documentation of their journey from Angora (modern-day Ankara, Turkey) to the Bakhtiari lands of western Iran, in what is now the western part of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province and the eastern part of Khuzestan. They then follow Haidar Khan as he leads 50,000 of his people and countless animals on a harrowing trek across the Karun River and over Zard Kuh, the highest peak in the Zagros Mountains. In filming the journey, Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison became the first Westerners to make the migration with the Bakhtiari.

The film highlights the extreme hardships faced by nomadic peoples, as well as the bravery and ingenuity of the Bakhtiari on their migration in search of grass (= good seasonal pasture) for their animals. At the same time, the film is also a reflection of the context out of which it emerged, that of Hollywood in the 1920s. The central concern of Grass is to present primordial human struggle with harsh environments, as in the contemporaneous ethnographic documentary Nanook of the North. According to Cooper,[3] however, the filmmakers were unaware of Nanook until their return to New York City from filming in Iran. As in Nanook, the filmmakers attempt to document "timeless" and "ancient" human struggles, here still observable in this part of the world - of Oriental pastoral nomads. The film reveals a deep and genuine interest by the makers in the achievement and perseverance of the Bakhtiari pastoralists, but is weak in providing context to their great trek.

The documentary presents the filmmakers' travel as a narrative of re-enaction of an ancient culture: while they present the audience with a people on the move in the present, the trek is depicted as an age-old culture of movement, i.e., re-enacting a traditional, stable culture of the past. History is left out, or rather, left unsaid. Mention is only made of a sort of genealogical quest for so-called Aryan origins of 3000 years ago, calling the Bakhtiari, "the Forgotten People" - but it is not elaborated. The film highlights the migratory Anatolian and Iranian peoples as continuously in a struggle for survival: the hunter on the Taurus mountains "does not hunt for sport, he kills for food". This annual Bakhtiari migration to Iranian highlands is beautifully presented, showing the environmental difficulties standing in the way of the tribe, which over time has developed ingenious solutions to overcome them (goat-skin floats at the river crossing, barefoot trail cutting over snow-covered mountains Zard Kuh, etc.).

In 1997, Grass was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In 2009, author Bahman Maghsoudlou published his book Grass: Untold Stories detailing background information and historical references related to the making of the movie.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Hall, Mordaunt (April 30, 1927). "Chang A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)". The New York Times. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Behlmer, Rudy (1965), Grass DVD, Special Features: Merian C. Cooper- Rudy Behlmer Interview 
  4. ^ Maghsoudlou, Bahman (2009), Grass:Untold Stories 

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