Documentary Buck Stops at 
the Garrison Institute

Film about horse whisperer is part of weekend retreat

By Joe Dizney

Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8:30 p.m., the Garrison Institute will host a free screening of the award-winning documentary Buck, the story of Buck Brannaman and his intriguing life.

Winner of a 2011 Sundance Film Festival audience award for best documentary, short-listed for an Academy Award and regular on many “best-of” lists (Roger Ebert, The Wall Street Journal), Buck details the colorful and touching life and seemingly supernatural talents of the man Nicholas Evans based his bestselling novel The Horse Whisperer on and whom Robert Redford drafted as a consultant for his film version of that book.

More than a mere feel-good profile of an equine empath, the film traces Brannaman’s story from his youth as an abused child of an alcoholic father. Eventually taken in with his brother by an understanding foster family, he found his own salvation and purpose by channeling the kindness he so desperately desired and needed into a vocation, training — yes, horses — but more importantly creatures of the two-legged variety, their handlers. This “natural horsemanship” centers around techniques devised to work responsively with the animals’ given nature and an attitude of patience and firm “leadership” informed by compassionate understanding rather than the whip.

For over three decades, Buck has taught clinics all over the United States, becoming an almost cult figure to both the horsey set and working cowboys. (It hasn’t hurt that he has photo-ready good looks and a lifelong sideline career as a “trick roper,” having performed on the rodeo and exhibition circuits as well as in television commercials since he was 6 years old.)

The 88-minute documentary was directed by first-time filmmaker Cindy Meehl and edited by Emmy-nominated Garrison resident Toby Shimin (co-curator of the Depot Theatre’s Depot Docs series). Shimin will be on hand for a post-screening Q-and-A.

Asked about her own experience working on the film and Brannaman’s process, Shimin said: “The psychoanalyst Ann Ulanov talks about emotional and psychic health occurring when there is a constant and fluid conversation between the conscious and the unconscious. I think this is something that many of us strive to achieve.

“During the year I spent editing Buck, watching the more than 300 hours of his work with horses and people, I felt like I was witnessing this particular kind of flow, with the horse as a pure, unobscuring conduit. Buck always says, ‘The horse is a mirror to your soul,’ and this metaphor was my guiding principle as I constructed Buck’s story and, based on much of the response, I think it was an accurate one.”

This free screening of Buck is in conjunction with the Garrison Institute’s concurrent “Chemistry of Connection” workshop (Nov. 21–23), which explores the interpersonal and collective fields of relationships and interconnection.

The seminar will be led by psychotherapist and author Tara Bennett-Goleman, science journalist and psychologist-author Daniel Goleman (noted for his bestseller Emotional Intelligence), international environmental mediator Aaron Wolfe and equine therapist R.J. Bob Sadowski Jr. Sadowski uses “horse whispering” principles in his proprietary “HorseMindShip” system and will be demonstrating his approach with his own horses at the workshop.

The screening will take place at the Garrison Institute, Route 9D at Glenclyffe in Garrison. For further information on the “Chemistry of Connection” workshop, go to garrisoninstitute.org.


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