This weekend marks the Denver opening of Sundance Audience Award winning documentary Buck, based on the life of professional horseman Buck Brannaman. Brannaman was the inspiration for the book “The Horse Whisperer”, which was later made into a movie starring Robert Redford, for which Buck was a technical consultant.
Director Cindy Meehl, a former client of Buck’s, makes her filmmaking debut with this documentary about Buck’s uncanny ability to understand and connect not only people to their horses but people to other humans.
Your Denver Cinephile had a chance to chat with Buck, and below are some snippets from our Q&A.
Click here for my review of Buck
Longmont was mentioned in the movie. Was any part of Buck filmed in Colorado?
You know, they filmed me in so many places. They had lots of footage in Colorado for sure. I can’t really remember, but I don’t think any was in the finished film.
How often do you do clinics in Colorado?
Probably a half a dozen clinics a year. I’ve been coming here a long time. Colorado was kind of one of my starting places. When I started doing this 29 years ago, I was more or less in Montana, had one in Colorado here with a man named Jim Koch, old friend of mine out near Lafayette, and one clinic in California. It just spread by word of mouth, eventually to Australia and New Zealand. It took awhile to get there, especially since I don’t really do any advertising, but it’s been fun and it grew slowly enough that I could handle it.
What is your favorite horse/western movie?
Jeremiah Johnson, which is Bob’s (Robert Redford) favorite too. I also like the dialogue in Tombstone. I liked Val Kilmer in that movie.
You travel 9 months a year. How often do you see your wife when you’re on the road?
Not as often as I’d like to. In the summers, Mary goes with me as much as she can. Some years when we’re having colts born, then it’s hard to leave when you have mares you’re worried about. Most years, she does go with me quite a bit during the summer. It’s a sacrifice, and it’s been quite a sacrifice for her to be home all these years, but we’ve managed to make it work all this time and we still love each other.
What’s your secret after all these years?
Anybody who’s married knows that at first it’s easy. But any kind of relationship is work. If I hadn’t married someone like Mary, I probably wouldn’t have stayed married, because most women couldn’t live with a lifestyle like I have, a job like I have. So the success of it really, probably most of the credit lies with her.
What was the most impactful feedback you ever received from a client?
I started off doing this just thinking that I’d just be helping people get along a little better with their horses and get to where they could get their horses to do something for them. I wasn’t in it too long before I realized there’s a lot of opportunities to be a part of a profound change in a person. Then it seems like once they make the changes necessary to be able to get along with the horse and have the horse accept them, then some changes happen within themselves, and they realize it transcends horses and applies to their relationships with other human beings as well. It’s a very humbling thing to get to be a part of someone’s life in that respect. Of course, along with that, comes great responsibility. You just hope like heck that you say the right things when that opportunity presents itself.
When you have a really damaged/problematic horse like you did in one scene in Buck, do you find it distractive to the progress of the other students, or do they benefit from it?
It’s a little bit of both. Sometimes it can hold you up a bit. Most generally, people are there to learn, so they look at it as an opportunity. The horse in the film, that’s a really rare kind of example. The fact that the horse had been brain damaged and they didn’t start out with a “whole” horse to begin with, and then she (owner) did pretty much everything wrong you could do with one. It really illustrates how sophisticated the learning process is for a young foal from its mother. When a human has that sole responsibility, unless they’re really experienced, they almost always fail, because there are so many things that happen in nature that we take for granted.
There’s a great message in that story, and I hope from this documentary that people get the bigger picture. Whether you have horses or dogs or children, with that comes a great responsibility that goes way beyond just keeping food in front of them and a roof over their head. It’s about teaching them right from wrong and teaching them how to fit in the world and how to survive and thrive. I’ve thought a lot about that horse because it’s a very sad story for me, and I realized, especially through visiting with people that have seen the film, that don’t necessarily have a background with horses, that they really did get the big picture. Really and truly, that horse, in its short life, may have a more profound effect, and may have accomplished more than 100 horses that lived a long life and died of old age, in terms of what can be learned from that situation. So for that, I don’t think it was for nothing.
What did it feel like to win the Audience Award at Sundance?
Well to me, if you’re going to pick one to win, that would be the one, because it’s just normal, everyday people that are going to the films. Those are the people that you hope enjoy it and have praise for it, as opposed to a jury, where it’s just a handful of people that may or may not be interested in the subject matter. The fact that the audience liked it so much, I was really thrilled for Cindy (Meehl) and proud of her, because she worked awful hard on this, and she gave three years of her life. What a terrible thing if she’d gotten there and nobody liked it. That would’ve been pretty sad because I’m pretty sure it takes just as much work to make a bad film as a good one. And once you make a bad one, you still have to get people to go to get your money back. She did such a great job. I knew that she would not disappoint me.
What was it like working with Robert Redford on The Horse Whisperer?
There are some celebrities, where, after meeting them, you think to yourself, “I liked them more before I met them.” Bob isn’t like that. Working with Bob was a great opportunity. I remember we were sitting in this coffee shop one morning and I couldn’t buy anything but Krusteez pancake mix, and then I see him trying to talk like me and dress like me for the role, and it was surreal.
What’s not to like? He’s a real gentle soul, real special. I think a lot of him and we’ve remained friends over the years.
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