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article imageHorsing around at Sundance: Director Cindy Meehl's perspective Special

By Michael Krebs     Jan 2, 2012 in Entertainment
Park City - With the 2012 Sundance Film Festival just weeks away, Cindy Meehl, winner of the 2011 Sundance Audience Award for "Buck," shared her perspectives on her film and on her experience at Sundance.
The Sundance Film Festival held annually in Park City, Utah has become a cornerstone for the aspirations of independent filmmakers and actors since the establishment of the Sundance Institute by Robert Redford in 1981.
There is a linear connection between the loose artistic confederacy at the Sundance Film Festival and the silver screen establishment in Hollywood, and the happenings and achievements in Utah often spawn larger scale recognition at venues like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Given this linear relationship, it is also curious to witness Hollywood's nod to the independent voices that so often nourish popular culture's film studios.
Given also Redford's stately posture as the founder of the Sundance Institute, this curiosity was extended last year when the documentary "Buck" won the 2011 Sundance Audience Award. "Buck," directed by Cindy Meehl, follows Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for Robert Redford's 1998 movie, "The Horse Whisperer."
With the 2012 Sundance Film Festival set to begin on January 19, I caught up with Meehl to ask her about experience with "Buck" and about her Sundance perspectives.
KREBS: Often with journalism and with documentary film making the story reshapes the storyteller's original thought on the subject at hand. And with Buck, the cowboy helps reorient the perspective of a given troubled horse. How did Buck shape you as a director? And when you see the film now, how does he continue to have an impact on you?
MEEHL: Buck actually did a lot to shape me as a director, though I'm sure he does not know it. He has a way of "raising the bar" on everything you do. There is no such thing as too tired, too difficult or not trying your absolute best in his world. Excuses are a joke to him. He's like the Nike ad ~~ Just Do It! His hard work philosophy and tenacious manner was a big influence on me. Anyone who has ever made a film knows that it is a job full of challenges and choices. It is not for the faint of heart. Knowing his dedication to his work made me work harder than ever to accurately depict him and achieve what it was that I wanted to say in this film. Seeing the film, even now, I still get choked up when I see him riding alone in that field at the end of the film because I know how hard won his success is.
KREBS: In your perspective, who learned more from Buck - the horses or their handlers?
MEEHL: I would definitely say the handlers learned more. They had the most to "unlearn" in order to find that understanding of how a horse thinks. Horses live in the moment and with the right sensitivity and "release" of the good behavior, they learn incredibly quickly. It's the human that can't let go of old habits as easily.
KREBS: Buck offers an intimate portrayal of a man who understands brutality and fear from having experienced it firsthand. What drew you to this film?
MEEHL: I was drawn to make this film for several reasons. I had ridden horses all my life and had never seen anyone who was so gifted with a horse and taught you how to communicate and work with them in a way that none of my other teachers could even come close to. However, the life lessons that go hand in hand with that type of horsemanship so transcended the horse and became about how to live your life and deal with all the people and challenges in your life. It is very empowering whether you own a horse or not.
KREBS: You are very active on the film festival circuit. Are you able to enjoy the showcases? And are you looking for a specific reaction from your audiences?
MEEHL: I love to show this film to audiences because I know that people are so very moved by it. It feels wonderful to give people such a gift that they come up and thank you with tears in their eyes! My intention has always been to uplift and inspire with Buck's life and lessons.
KREBS: Your film was up against a competitive lineup at Sundance. How did you believe it was set apart from its peers?
MEEHL: I think there are so many remarkable films that were shown at Sundance. They all have their own powerful messages. I think that this film is unique in its subject matter. I was lucky to be able to shoot at such beautiful locations and I think the horse is one of the most magnificent creatures on earth. That combined with such a unique character as Buck Brannaman who is such a natural and gifted speaker, he just easily steals your heart. The audience seems to relate to him no matter what their walk of life is.
KREBS: What is it about the Sundance Film Festival that appeals to you? Is there something in the character of the festival that stands out from others?
MEEHL: I love Sundance because there is simply no other festival like it. Sundance really loves its films and filmmakers and seems to celebrate the incredible spirit that binds us all together as people who love film! Their organization of so many people and their films is unprecedented. Park City is a small town that comes together to truly embrace all that is special about independent film. Sundance has "raised the bar" for bringing an awareness to voices of the world that may not have been heard without its nurturing and caring.
KREBS: Buck presents a potent narrative. What have you taken from this film, and how do you think what you have taken will be applied to your upcoming work?
MEEHL: The lessons I have learned are too many to count. The entire film has been a learning experience for me, especially since it was my first film. I have learned to trust my instincts as well as my incredible team that worked with me. Julie Goldman, Andrea Meditch, Toby Shimin, Alice Henty and Sofia Santana where amazing to work with and I feel we have a great chemistry together for making films. I felt that Buck's story was something I had to tell. It was so very powerful. It is important that the film has a certain visual quality that will help carry the audience into the world that I am trying to convey. I think that people need to feel transported out of their world and come out in a better place.
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