“If you find a way to fix this thing right here, it’ll make you better. It’ll make you better in areas you didn’t think were related to horses.” Buck Brannaman’s students listen carefully when he speaks. They stand alongside their horses, hoping they’ll hear in his instructions a solution, whether their animal is fearful or fierce, stubborn or prickly. But clinics with Buck usually end up teaching them less about their horses than themselves. “A lot of times,” he says, “Rather than helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.” The inspiration for the book The Horse Whisperer and an advisor on Robert Redford’s movie set, Buck reveals he has his own issues—a severely abusive father when he was young and trained up to be a rodeo performer with his brother (who is not interviewed here), as well as a measurable loneliness now on the road, when he leaves his wife and children behind. While his clients (and he) extol his wisdom, Buck is also apt to chastise them for not being self-aware, as he’s been forced to be. When he chastises a woman for her carelessness with her horses, a carelessness that leads to a bad end for one of them, the film makes clear his stakes: he’s finding and saving victims, again and again. In so doing, he saves himself. Shortlisted for the 2012 Best Documentary Academy Award, the movie screens on 19 December as part of Stranger Than Fiction’s Pre-Winter Season Special, followed by a Q&A with director Cindy Meehl.
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