This documentary in the Santa Barbara Filmmaker section is about a 2007 gathering of more than 40 legendary horsemen from nine states who came to a rodeo ranch in Cuyama to celebrate their vaquero heritage. Through extensive interviews enhanced by footage of the cowboys in action, director Susan Sember manages to remind the viewer of a nearly forgotten culture, and show how flourishing it truly is. She recently answered some questions via email.
What’s your S.B. connection?
Since 1999, I have split my time between Malibu and Santa Barbara. I have had a personal and professional presence in both. The Gathering was also entirely filmed in Santa Barbara County.
How did you come to learn about this gathering of horsemen?
The horseman actually came to the uniquely constructed Rancho Bonilla in New Cuyama, CA at our invitation and specifically, for this film production. They traveled, with their families and horses, from nine western states. They had all heard about each other but most had never met and this was the first and only time, they had all gathered in one place. Historically, it was quite unprecedented and these men were that passionate about showing the world this beautiful and time tested style of horsemanship and way of life hadn’t died.
I don’t think many people realize that the vaquero tradition is alive and well. Where could the everyday person go to learn more?
Of course, the horsemen that appear in the film are great resources but additionally, museums right here in Santa Barbara County such as the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the Carriage Museum, the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation and then, down in L.A., the Autry Museum. There are also wonderful books that provide rich information such as those by Ernie Morris and Buck Brannaman, both of whom are in our film, as well as books by vaqueros who have passed like Chief Arnold Rojas, Bill Dorrance and Ed Connell.
Is this culture slowly dying, or is it experiencing a resurgence?
There is definitely a resurgence and dramatic increase in interest worldwide. At our web sites, vaquerofilms.org and eisf.org, along with our “Vaquero Films” Facebook page, we have had people from more than 26 countries register. The clinicians and the horsemen who practice this style of horsemanship are in demand not all over the U.S. but internationally for requests of workshops and seminars.
However, the large ranches, the raising of cattle on horseback and the lengthy nurturing and development of bridle,horses are definitely threatened and have been by urbanization, development, and our “hurry up” world. We certainly hope that The Gathering will give audiences an appreciation and desire to preserve, promote and learn more about these time tested methods of horsemanship, its artful traditions and grounded way of life.
What’s next on your filmmaking plate?
Well, it’s not really a matter of what’s next as I, typically, have several film projects going on at a time. As an example, I’m working on several documentaries production wise right now such as one on cystic fibrosis, another on the Channel Islands, a variety of ocean related subjects, two projects involving painters and conservation and yet another involving horses…and that doesn’t count the ones we have in development. Right after the film festival, I have shoots in northern California with horses, longhorns and the music which will be inserted into one of our upcoming films; a shoot in southern California involving surfing and a shoot in the Sierras with snowboarders on another project; and then, it’s off to India on another.
The Gathering screens on Wednesday, February 1, 5 p.m. at the Metro 4.