Oh, The Places You Will Go
Last updated 11/3/2021 at Noon
The best thing about documentary filmmaking, it turns out, is the friends you make along the trail. For nearly two years, Sisters native and cinematographer Sam Pyke and I have been traveling around the country meeting people who have managed to retain, and to pay forward, the resiliency, optimism, and self-sacrifice that once exemplified the American Character.
We covered a lot of country in this effort — from Nevada and Idaho to Wyoming and Texas, and points beyond. We slept on the ground, in horse trailers, in very bad motels, and because the budget was lean we became recognized experts in road-trip cuisine. Nothing says Big Budget Production better than catering a movie-shoot with a bag of Funyuns, gas station chimichangas, and cold coffee in the blast furnace heat of Stonewall, Texas.
Among the many people we met were Victoria Jackson and her family. Victoria is a two-time world champion calf roper of Paiute-Shoshone descent, now living in Elko, Nevada. She is also an author, photographer, and student in the University of Oklahoma’s Indigenous People’s Law program, which will help to inform her important work in defense of tribal rights.
Last spring, Victoria invited us to film a branding at the Paiute-Shoshone Reservation in Ft. McDermitt, Nevada, and to interview members of her family for our movie, “The Outside Circle.”
In McDermitt, we met Al Jackson, Victoria’s father. Al is a Shoshone tribal elder who has worked as a buckaroo on many of the famous horseback outfits across northern Nevada, and who has sacrificed himself for more than 30 years at the Sundance Ceremony, foregoing food and water during that lengthy ordeal while praying for the health of his family.
I wanted our film’s audience to hear Al tell his own story in his own language, a language born in the rocks and the brush and the mountains and valleys of the American West, and we interviewed Al in exactly the right place, far out on the desert, sitting in camp chairs in the tall sage.
Al spoke to us in Shoshone, telling of his childhood on the reservation, his years as a buckaroo in the big Owyhee country, and of his hopes and dreams for his family and people. What resonates on film is Al’s incredible humility, his easy charm, and the utter absence of bitterness in his heart.
Al Jackson has a legitimate claim to anger at the historical injustices perpetrated against his tribe, but he focuses instead on the present and the future, teaching his language where he can, promoting traditions, values, and optimism in the hearts of his people, and offering his wisdom to those who would hear it.
We also interviewed Victoria’s uncle, Arlo Crutcher. In 2014 Arlo was a member of the Grass March, a group of western ranchers who rode their horses from Bodega Bay in California to Washington, D.C., delivering petitions against a series of ill-considered range-management policies levied by the BLM.
“Cowboys are the new Indians,” Arlo told us, an insightful statement from a man who is decidedly both. But somehow Arlo remains more grateful for his opportunities than bitter for his challenges, and there is no sharpened edge in his
“Edgy” films, of course, are documentary gold, because anger and perpetual discontent sell tickets. But that isn’t the kind of film I wanted to make. I wanted to offer a different story, an antidote to the toxins pumped daily into our bloodstreams by legacy media.
I wanted to tell a story where closely observed values — faith, family, friends, and community — remain celebrated because they help people far from the wheelhouses of power preserve their own values and traditions against an increasingly hostile, accusatory, and perhaps even authoritarian future.
Quietly sustaining the effort required for self-preservation on the margins of American life — as all of the people we interviewed in our film are doing every day – is as honest and edgy as it gets. But contemporary audiences seem to prefer the dopamine jolts of clickbait rage, the Point and Shriek Industry, and the visual effects of political strife, urban riots, and tear gas over modesty, self-reflection, and the complications of long-term stewardship.
Interviewing Victoria and her family in some of the remotest stretches of the American Outback was a master class in all of those traits. And that was true of people we interviewed across the nation, from Cary Schwarz in his saddle shop in Salmon, Idaho, to Len Babb in his log cabin studio in Paisley, Oregon.
It isn’t that these folks are unaware of what is happening in the dominant American culture. They see the machinations clearly. But they are exceedingly wary of this new American zeitgeist because they identify the potential — and in some corners maybe even a hardened political desire — for destruction of their way of life in the maw of an all-consuming, strictly homogenized, and ultimately mediocre cultural beast.
Foodies often say that the best meals are made with local ingredients, and in a sense that is what we
have tried to do with
this film. We found the ingredients for our movie — faith, family, friends, community, and hard-won optimism —in people who make their living directly from the land, cowboys riding the outside circle whose languages and traditions were born from the land they must steward carefully into the future, and whose values — blended across centuries, strife, and once disparate cultures – continue to sustain them against considerable odds.
Editor’s note: A work-in-progress screening of The Outside Circle: A Movie of the Modern West will be held at DD Ranch, 3836 NE Smith Rock Way, Terrebonne on Friday, November 5, and Saturday, November 6. The screening is a fundraiser for the movie project and for Warm Springs Horse Network and Safe Acres Sanctuary. Tickets are available via Ticket Tailor for $15 (www.tickettailor.com/events/ddranch/585478); $18 at the gate.