First Cow

The waters of a river flow placidly by. On its banks, time rewinds, bringing buried stories to light. At the beginning of the 19th century, fur trappers are not the only ones to venture into the wilds of Oregon; there’s also a taciturn cook, a loner who finds an able entrepreneur and friend in a Chinese immigrant. The two start a small trade in “oily cakes”, which turns out to be a great success in the rough West. The only catch: the raw material they use is acquired illegally. Director Kelly Reichardt co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Raymond, author of the novel upon which the film is based. First Cow confirms her talent for telling stories of an America filled with promise, far from the big cities. Like a Western, the film pays tribute to characters on the margins of society who must take destiny into their own hands – only here, instead of guns, there’s a spoonful of honey and a pail of milk. Thus, these outlaws present the frontier, that screen onto which America projects its national dreams, not as a place of economic or material conquest, but as a meeting place. A splendid alternative scenario, which today acquires particular civil and political significance.
by Kelly Reichardt
with John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone
USA 2019 English 122’ Colour


  • John Magaro (Cookie)
  • Orion Lee (King-Lu)
  • Toby Jones (Chief Factor)
  • Scott Shepherd (Lloyd)
  • Gary Farmer (Totillicum)
  • Lily Gladstone (Chief Factor’s Wife)


Director Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Cinematography Christopher Blauvelt
Editing Kelly Reichardt
Music William Tyler
Sound Design Leslie Shatz
Production Design Anthony Gasparro
Art Director Lisa Ward
Costumes April Napier
Make-Up Jessica Needham
Assistant Director Christopher Carroll
Casting Gayle Keller
Producers Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Neil Kopp
Executive Producers Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Christopher Carroll, Louise Lovegrove

Produced by


Kelly Reichardt

Born in Miami, Florida in 1964. After making her debut feature film River of Grass, this screenwriter and director dedicated herself for a long time to the short film form. She returned to feature-length filmmaking with Old Joy which, like First Cow, is based on a story by the American novelist Jonathan Raymond. Reichardt’s films have screened and won prizes at international festivals. She also teaches at Bard College. The most recent of several retrospectives of her work took place in 2017 at the Museum of Modern Art.


1994 River of Grass 2006 Old Joy 2008 Wendy & Lucy 2010 Meek's Cutoff 2013 Night Moves 2016 Certain Woman 2019 First Cow

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2020