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.
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.
For all its longevity and tradition, the western is a genre that responds well to reinvention. Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room (2014), for example, is among the handful to be told from the female experience, while Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill (2010) is one of many to transplant the template to modern times and other countries. And while Chinese-born writer/director Chloe Zhao hasn’t attempted to turn the genre entirely on its head, her sophomore feature The Rider does reshape the traditional cowboy narrative in a way that both embraces and challenges western tropes.