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PALM SPRINGS — Following a handful of individuals as they prepare for a competition, Wild Horse Wild Ride falls within a familiar documentary subgenre.
And as with most such films, the prize is beside the point. The real subject in this winning group portrait is the bonds that develop between a charismatic collection ofhorse whisperers, pro and am, and the spirited young beasts they train in a miraculous 100 days. With proper handling this crowd-pleaser with a big heart, which had its world premiere at the Palm Springs festival, could corral an ardent theatrical audience.
For their debut feature, husband-and-wife documentarians Greg Gricus and Alex Dawson zero in on the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge and sidestep any debate over the U.S. policy behind the event. For decades the Bureau of Land Management has controlled the country’s wild horse population by rounding up thousands each year, with the goal of finding homes for them. A lucky 100 get a heightened shot at adoption through the Challenge, which pairs steeds with optimistic wranglers whose mission is to showcase their smarts, talent and companionability. (Smaller regional versions of the annual tourney take place as well.)
Whether you like the roundups or not, it would be hard to find more devoted caretakers for the horses. From contestants vying for the 2009 title, the filmmakers chose exceedingly well. The nine people profiled are a diverse bunch, among them a married couple from Texas, a Navajo father and son and two homeschooled New Hampshire brothers. But whether vet or newbie, daredevil rhinestone cowgirl or soft-spoken Mexico-born rancher, their equine devotion is a deep, deep thing.
At the end of the three months lie not only the possibility of glory at the two-day meet in Fort Worth, but the heartbreak of separation for those who aren’t able to compete with bidders in the public auction. All the trainers would like to keep their horses because, as one tearful contestant puts it, “I love him more than love.”
Emotions run high during the auction, with one twist courtesy of a famous bidder. But the film’s sweetest surprise involves the Saint Jo, Texas, man, well into his 60s, who dispenses country humor with a honeyed drawl. Hoping for a big, steady horse, George instead winds up with a diminutive and incorrigible outlaw he names Waylon, who tries his patience and then changes his life.
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
A Fish Creek Films presentation
Directors: Alex Dawson, Greg Gricus
Writer-producer: Alex Dawson
Director of photography: Greg Gricus
Music: Anthony Lee Rogers
Editor: Jude Leak
No MPAA rating, 107 minutes
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