IFC's Sundance Selects acquired Buck, which won audience awards at Sundance and the Provincetown Film Festival, and is releasing it in theaters around the country; critics have raved (it's 87% fresh) and it has grossed more than $1 million since June 17. More from Brannaman and the trailer, below.
Filmmaker Cindy Meehl found out about the horse whisperer by taking a few of Brannaman's horse clinics, which he conducts 40 weeks a year. Others had approached Brannaman over the years with various film ideas that didn't pan out, so he told himself: "'We'll see if she can follow it through and get it done.' She damned sure did."
The moving part of Brannaman's story is how his own abusive upbringing forged his attitude toward both horses and humans. In his 2001 memoir, Faraway Horses, "I wanted people to realize that sometimes there's a happy ending to a life," he says. "You can start out in despair, and the conventional wisdom says that with a dark beginning you follow the same cycle as the parents. Sometimes people make good choices. I wanted the book to be encouraging to people who are having a tough time: it might not always be that way."
By participating openly with the documentary, Brannaman wanted people to "know more about me and empathize and understand, the way I empathize," he says.
The most disturbing story in the film shows Brannaman failing to heal a damaged horse and owner. "That choice she made in her situation [to euthanize an untractable horse] was the best choice. You can see that as long as I was there in the corral we were progressing. I didn't have to be gone but a few minutes when Dan, who has experience, found the horse to be more than he could handle. If I couldn't be with the horse every second of the day, without me, someone could have gotten hurt or killed. That horse's life shouldn't have ended up that way. There's a responsiblity to helping them get along in the world."
Brannaman found out recently that the girl was returning to his California clinic "with a horse more suitable for her," he says. "She has to continue her search to help herself. I'm thrilled and excited she's going to be back, we have more to talk about."