|
|
|
Morning Sun
  • Horse Whisperer documentary 'Buck' is a Western of a different sort

  • You wouldn’t expect to hear a Pearl Jam song play over the closing credits of a cowboy documentary. Then again, Cindy Meehl’s first film, “Buck,” isn’t your average Western flick. Meehl tells a story that softly finds sadness and hope in the human condition. And the song “Just Breathe,” a beautiful love ballad – does the same.

    • email print
  • You wouldn’t expect to hear a Pearl Jam song play over the closing credits of a cowboy documentary. Then again, Cindy Meehl’s first film, “Buck,” isn’t your average Western flick. Meehl tells a story that softly finds sadness and hope in the human condition. And the song “Just Breathe,” a beautiful love ballad – does the same.
    “Buck loves that song. I was a little nervous. It’s not really a cowboy song. I thought we probably needed Willie Nelson or something. I wasn’t sure it was right for this, but it turns out to be perfect. Every time Buck hears it, he’s crying, ‘You couldn’t have picked a more perfect song,’” Meehl said about her subject, Buck Brannaman, a cowboy from Wyoming who is known widely as the real-life Horse Whisperer, a moniker that Meehl says that Buck “doesn’t put a lot of stock into.” The 1998 Robert Redford movie of the same name was inspired by Brannaman.
    Winning the audience award for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Meehl’s movie reveals how Brannaman overcame an abusive childhood to become the inspiration for a Hollywood film. In between he’s become legendary in the horse world, a healer of horses and humans. He takes a nonviolent approach to breaking horses, a method called natural horsemanship.
    Moments into the film, Brannaman lays out what is to come: “A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.”
    Seated up near the rafters of the Liberty Hotel, Meehl silences a cell phone call from her mother as she recounts her first meeting with Brannaman, which took place because she had a difficult horse and attended one of his clinics.
    She was hooked.
    “At Buck, all the religions come together. We’re all working at this. As much as it’s a common-sense approach, it is really difficult in the long run to have that sensitivity. And here’s this big Western guy and he’s teaching me how to be sensitive to a horse, and I thought this is very powerful stuff. And I was upset that I didn’t know it until that late in the game. I’d ridden a long time ... and he made it all so clear and I was so moved by his story and what he was doing.”
    A few years later, Meehl attended another Brannaman clinic. He travels the country 40 weeks out of the year, giving his clinics. Again, she left empowered.
    “These clinics are full, but I wondered why aren’t the stands? I don’t care if you have a horse or not, people should hear and see this. You can audit a clinic for $25 and you’ll get your money’s worth.”
    Page 2 of 2 - A successful fashion designer in her 20s, Meehl never had it in her head to do a movie.
    “That is what is so crazy. But I was so moved by the idea and felt it so strongly that I thought it’d be great to do a documentary on him,” Meehl said.
    And so, at a clinic in Montana a deal was struck. Meehl spotted Brannaman sitting alone at lunch. She worked up the nerve to talk to him.
    “I asked if he’d ever thought of doing a documentary, and he said ‘no.’ So I asked if he’d like to do one, and he said ‘yes.’ It was a 2 1/2-minute conversation. I said, ‘I think I’d like to do it. I need your phone number.’ He gave it to me on a piece of paper, and I walked off.”
    Two and a half years later, Meehl and her team edited 300 hours of footage down to 88 minutes, and the result has been a well-received documentary.
    “I get stories from people, their testimonials about how he had changed their life. I was so impressed with how open people were and anxious to talk.”
    In the film, Meehl captures a wrenching scene in which a horse has to be euthanized and Brannaman turns it into a teachable moment for the animal’s owner. And the lesson was a hard one to learn – the horse is mirroring bad behavior.
    “We all do it, we have excuses for why this is going on and why this horrible thing is happening. He’s tough, but he makes you own it. It’s a powerful lesson, and I think that’s why audiences without horses are flocking to this movie and are moved by it because they discover their own humanity though the horses. The horse really is just a metaphor,” Meehl said.
    Emotionally, the toughest parts to shoot were Brannaman talking about his abusive father.
    “I did quite often break down on these shots – in tears. I’d be on other side of the camera weeping,” Meehl said.
    Filmmaking, Meehl said, is like “building a house. There are so many details down to the hinges and screws that you don’t think about. That was a surprise. There was a certain naivete, not thinking it through. It might look effortless, but it’s not.”

      calendar