Sunday, 23 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: Buck
By Alan Bacchus
Real life horse whisperer is the subject of Meehl’s heart warming crowd pleasing documentary. I mean it’s a film full of pretty horses, shot in stunning Midwest ranches with pristine high definition imagery and a whole lot of soothing southern accents and country charm. Buck is the comfort food antidote to an inordinate number of heavy dramas at this year’s festival.
The Buck in this film is Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for the book and movie, The Horse Whisperer. But, as I suspected, there’s no ‘whispering’ involved in Buck’s work and it certainly doesn’t have the ethereal spirituality of Robert Redford’s film, but it’s no less fascinating to watch Buck magically put even the most feral horses at ease and have them following his every move like he’s been training them for years.
For most of the year Buck travels across the country conducting clinics for ranchers, horse trainers and likely Horse Whisperer fans. Meehl’s cameras follow Buck from place to place with his team which includes his equally talented daughter and devoted wife.
Key to appreciating Buck’s methodology is knowing how horses were traditionally ‘broken’ by ranchers and horse training. Meehl briefly goes back to the torturous, almost medieval practises of old - physical abuse using fear and intimidation to beat horses into submission. Buck himself admits to once using these practices, and we can feel the sadness in his eyes when describes his transition into the whisperer through his mentors.
The parallel of Buck’s lifelong goal links up marvellously to Buck’s own painful past. Going back into Buck’s childhood reveals an obscene life of abuse at the hands of his father who in the 60’s put his Buck into show business as a trick roper at the age of three.
The lifelong journey of Buck from abused victim to champion of humane animal practices has the emotional gravitas most Hollywood couldn’t write, The Horse Whisperer included. Nepotism accusations due to the Sundance/Redford connection can quickly be dismissed as there seems to be no doubt Buck is a deserving front runner for an audience award.