Buck Gets Standing Ovation; Real Life Horse Whisperer Wants to Meet Cesar Millan
First time director Cindy Meehl brought the capacity audience at Austin's Paramount Theater to its feet with her crowd-pleasing documentary Buck, about Buck Brannaman, the gentleman cowboy-horse whose life and work partially inspired Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer. After the film, Brannaman and the filmmakers walked onstage to a rousing standing ovation for a Q&A filled with horsemanship advice, behind-the-scenes details, and a shout out to the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan.
"We had 300 hours of footage," explained Meehl, who was named one of Deadline's 2011 Filmmakers to Watch when the film premiered at Sundance, where it won the Audience Award. "There is so much good footage I felt like I could have done three or four movies. There were heartbreaking things to cut, we had several people's stories... a lot of little scenes of Buck-isms, words of wisdom, and we had to keep trimming it down because they said it had to be an hour and a half. I said, 'Really?' Because I had four."
The documentary zeroes in on Brannaman's unconventional work within the world of horse training, in which he advocates psychological understanding over the more brutal tradition of "breaking" a horse. But Meehl probes into Brannaman's deep-seated psychological scars, left over from a childhood of abuse, to widen the profile into a startlingly moving message film about parenting and the importance of being empathetic to others regardless of if they're animal or human.
It's that Chicken Soup for the Horse-Loving Soul angle that makes Buck such a crowd-pleaser, even while it punctuates Brannaman's feel-good legacy with a piercingly violent and tragic segment involving an emotionally-neglected and dangerous young colt. The lasting gut-punch leaves a lingering sadness hanging in the air and gives Meehl the opportunity to give her film a key example of why Brannaman's story matters.
Audience members sat rapt in the Q&A as Brannaman doled out horsemanship advice and revealed that his life might make it to the big screen yet again in the near future to more closely examine his relationship with his brother, who does not appear in Buck. "I wrote a book called The Faraway Horses, which was an autobiographical book," he said. "There were a lot of horse stories that were very important in this book, and that did focus a lot on my brother and myself. Eventually, we're hoping that in time it will become a feature film."
Asked what he thought of the various "Fill-in-the-blank" Whisperers that emerged following Redford's film, Brannaman turned on the charm displayed so winningly in the film. "Frankly, I watch that Dog Whisperer and I wouldn't mind meeting that guy. He seems like he's got some common sense, Brannaman answered. "I don't know about the Ghost Whisperer."
Buck will be released theatrically by IFC on June 17.