After discovering Native American bareback horse rider Sharmaine Weed on Facebook, documentarian Kim Bartley (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) spent three years travelling backwards and forwards between her home in Ireland and Wyoming’s Wind River reservation to film Pure Grit. With minimal funding, Bartley shot the whole thing virtually single-handed, following Sharmaine through the highs and lows of her relationship with city girl Savannah, the challenges of becoming a professional racer and the difficulties faced by her traditional family.
The result is a compelling documentary that weaves those three years into a narrative of hope and determination against the odds. Pure Grit won the Best Irish Feature Documentary award at this year’s Galway Film Festival, and will make its US premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival on October 24th. I spoke to Bartley about the challenges of making such an intimate yet expansive film, and why authenticity and honesty are are the core of everything she does.
Like many of the contributors to She Found It at the Movies, the intoxicating new collection of essays from female and nonbinary writers about sex, desire and cinema, I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell head over heels for cinema. One rainy Sunday, aged 16, I revelled in an accidental double-bill of Tank Girl (1995) and Gone with the Wind (1939). I’d rented the former after being lured by the pulpy swagger of the VHS cover, and the latter simply popped up on BBC2. The uncompromising punk of Rachel Talalay’s comedy action film and the sweeping majesty of Victor Fleming’s 1939 romance epic were like nothing I had seen before. I was hooked.
The Assistant is a film that provokes a visceral physical reaction; the churning of the stomach, the gritting of the teeth, the white-knuckle gripping of a seat edge. It has malevolent monsters and horrified victims, and hums with a palpable sense of threat. It is, without doubt, a horror movie. Yet, while writer/director Kitty Green’s sensitively-made yet hard-hitting feature debut plays out in a dark, cold world full of secrets, lies and isolation, hers is no nightmarish fantasy landscape. Instead, she deftly — and devastatingly — lays bare the all-too-familiar fears that come with being made to feel like a voiceless, helpless, insignificant woman in an aggressively male environment.