There are terrific, inspiring, hilarious, motivational and heartbreaking documentaries, and then there is Buck, a brilliant film that embodies every one of those adjectives and, not surprisingly, is ridiculously entertaining.
The debut feature from American fashion designer/artist-cum-filmmaker Cindy Meehl, Buck tells the story of real-life ‘horse whisperer’ Buck Brannaman, a trainer who spends most of the year driving around the U.S. conducting four-day clinics designed to help people learn to work with their horses rather than demand the animals betray their instincts.
That may not sound like fascinating viewing, but Brannaman’s work with the horses is downright magical; transforming stubborn beasts into graceful, confident animals with compassion, patience and an apparent dash of clairvoyance.
Indeed, Brannaman served as the inspiration for – and the on-set advisor to - the 1998 Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer (Redford is among myriads friends, family and colleagues interviewed in the film.)
Meehl’s movie gathers ballast as we learn about Brannaman’s awful childhood as a rodeo performer and how that improbably served as the key to unlocking horse behavior. The astonishing strength of character that helped Brannaman transcend the darkness of his past is poignantly reflected in his loving relationship with his daughter Reata, who has clearly inherited the riding and roping talents of her dad.
But Brannaman is often away from his family and travels alone in his horse trailer from clinic to sold-out clinic all across the country, dealing with fractious horses and, frequently, fractious humans. As Brannaman says, "Often instead of helping people with horse problems, I'm helping horses with people problems."
It’s no wonder Buck snagged the Hot Docs 2011 Top Ten Audience Favourite and Sundance 2011 Audience Award Winner: Documentary; I promise you will not see a more memorable film this year.
Buck opens in Toronto Friday (October 28) at the Carlton Theatre, hitting Edmonton (Metro) on November 4th and Vancouver (Vancity) November 18th. Miss it at your peril.