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“Buck” –a great summer doc for the family: review by guest blogger Ron Wells

July 15, 2011

On the road, I am finding it challenging to keep up with my blogging! Thanks to guest blogger Ron Wells, I have a review of a wonderful documentary I am looking forward to seeing! I will be keeping my eye out for it to escape the afternoon heat in the cool quiet of a movie theater.

Buck, the first documentary by Cindy Meehl, is the story of Buck Brannaman, a cowboy who handles “horses with people problems.” It quietly tells Buck’s story without any need to sensationalize any of the telling.

What is fascinating about this documentary, which may not always be apparent, is the various layers and storylines it reveals as it moves along at its gentle, never hurried pace.

Buck is one of those people you may never meet, but one you would probably like to know. A trick roper at the age of three, a professional by the age of six, Buck and his brother were both physically abused by their father for any mistakes they made, or just because the father needed someone to hit. To hear Buck tell it in his steady, but unemotional voice, it was a brutal time for him.

The fact that he came out of that to be the person he is today is a story in itself. Thanks to a football coach and a local sheriff who rescued the boy from his dad, and then found the most loving and caring foster home one could imagine, Buck began to grow as a kind and gentle human being with a strong and loving spirit.

If that isn’t story enough right there, the way he teaches people who own or ride horses how to handle their horses is the main thrust of the story. And yet, it isn’t just about training horses. It’s about training people how to discover who they are so that they may better relate to the horses, and by extension though it is not actually said, to other people.

The lessons seem so simple, and yet so profound. “Live in the moment; you can’t live in the past.”

We’ve heard that so many times, and yet coming from this man it takes on a whole new meaning. And then he tells some of his “students”, “The horse is a mirror into your soul.” This is followed by the praise and awe of numerous converts who never believed Buck could actually do what he said he could do with their horses. That’s just one of the many surprises they get when they actually meet this man and see him in action.

Along the way, Buck talks about Ray Hunt, the man who taught him so much. We meet Buck’’s wife, daughter, and his foster mother during the telling of the film. As the foster mother, Betsy Shirley, says to Buck: “I knew you before you were a genius.” They both laugh and it’s easy to see how this woman helped him turn into the man he is today.

There is one scene near the end of the film, that is as spellbinding and powerful as a personal documentary can become. An owner has brought a horse who was “orphaned” at birth, and born “oxygen-deprived” on top of that. The horse is mean and impossible to handle. To say anymore would be giving too much away, but the comparison Buck makes between this horse and a child who may be born disabled in some way is profound. What he says will bring a tear to the eye of any parent, teacher or anyone in the general public who has worked with children who are especially challenged in one way or another. This scene, or series of scenes, is as emotionally powerful as anything you will see on the screen this year.

Once again, this is turning out to be quite a year for documentaries, and this is certainly an excellent one. So many layers of this film lead the movie goer deeper into the human condition, deeper into the untold stories of abuse overcome by love and gentle caring; there is just so much humanity to this film. And yet, it’s a story about a man who works with horses. Isn’t that amazing. Isn’t that wonderful.

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