One of the biggest consequences of coming out of a hiatus is missing opportunities as you try to get things going again.
For a moment there, I almost missed the opportunity to see The Long Rider, a new film by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Sean Cisterna.
I would have regretted it if I did.
Cisterna is one of those filmmakers who has a knack for bringing to life stories that pull your heart strings.
The Long Rider is no different.
Drawn to the film
If “a story about a guy who rides horseback from Canada to Brazil” isn’t enough to convince you to add this film to your watch list, then let me help you with a few other reasons.
Equestrianism – or horseback riding – is a disciplined activity that showcases the strong bond between man and animal. A long rider is someone who goes a journey of 1000 consecutive miles or more on horseback. This film is a blend of both worlds, and much more.
The Long Rider chronicles Filipe Masetti Leite’s journey from Canada to Brazil, and subsequent journey’s that he takes to define who he is. In total, the man travelled over 25,000km over the span of 8 years.
Honestly, I did not know the story of Leite before watching this documentary. I also did not do any research before hand. I don’t know much about horse riding as is, except for my love of horses and their majestic aura.
The experience I had was mind blowing, for a lack of a better way of saying it. What I truly wasn’t expecting was to learn about the kind of bond a human being could have with an animal, beyond what we see in domesticated animals like cats and dogs. The Long Rider put many things into perspective for me.
Documentaries are by far my favourite film and television genre. It’s not that fiction or real-life based stories are bad. They feature some of the best talent in the world, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of having in-depth conversations with.
However, documentaries provide audiences an opportunity to reflect, understand and debate perspectives on topics and conversations that are pivotal for our society to have.
The Long Rider gave me a chance to really reflect, and I’m grateful for that.
Relationships at the core of The Long Rider
The Long Rider to me is a story that captures three things: the relationship we have with mother nature, the relationship we have with each other as human beings, and the importance we put in ourselves.
Throughout this documentary, you as the viewer are greeted with nature at its best. At the centre of this, are the beautiful horses that take Leite on his dangerous journey. We see beautiful animals that show an undivided sense of loyalty to a man who has shown the same to them. Hearing about how equestrians always put their animals first before themselves, and seeing Leite do just that, humbles you as a person. We consider ourselves the masters of everything, but the trade shows you that without everything else, you are nothing.
Watching Leite embrace mother nature and care for it, understand it, cry for it, moves you in ways that I honestly cannot explain in words. There are moments in this film that just made me tear up. Not because I was sad, but because I understood.
I felt the pain when it was painful, I felt the happiness when things were happy. I just couldn’t explain it back to anyone.
On the flip side, it broke my heart seeing how we as humans treat one another. With a trip that conquered so many geographic areas, it put in full view the geopolitical issues that we are accustomed to hearing about. Seeing human beings take advantage of a man who more than loves his horses just tore my emotions.
What gave me hope was the importance we as humans put on ourselves. You had Leite who refused to let adversity get the better of him. No number of financial demands and no amount of waiting was going to break him; his partners (the beautiful horses) and his journey were his priority, and he was going to change people around him to move forward.
And people did.
Seeing people from places like Mexico and Honduras – places stricken with violence and corruption – rally around this man and join him in his journey of solidarity just warmed my heart. It gave me hope that we as a people could really see the bigger picture beyond our political and personal ambitions, a message that I feel is very important to convey today. Seeing those individuals involved with cartels show warmth and compassion; I mean, stuff like that just upsets your stereotypical view of people and the buckets with put them in.
If anything, the film makes you question our inner drive as people, and let us question the way we do things.
Beautiful footage. Masterclass direction and editing.
The fact that this journey from Canada to Brazil took 2 years blows my mind even now as I write this piece.
What takes me back even more is just how much of the journey Leite was able to document and save, filming himself and with the help of strangers and friends he met along the way.
This documentary was built from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, paired with so much archival footage and historical photographs. Spend some time going through the end credits, and you will see just how many people and organizations were involved making this film a reality.
Leite’s footage is a gift for viewers. It chronicles his entire journey, through good and bad, and allows you as the viewers to experience every detail to the fullest in as raw of a format as possible. Leite’s added involvement with the journey cinematography and acting as the film’s narrator completes the final product, vetting the journey being presented to us.
This film is a masterclass in directing and editing by Cisterna and Lee Walker respectively. Many others have written about the amount of effort it takes to find historical footage and really bring that into the production.
For me, more impressive than the research and homework is the creation of a production that let’s someone like me who knows nothing about any of these subjects to leave this film after 90 minutes feeling educated and informed. The film took almost two years to put together, and you can feel that with every frame.
I feel like I have immersed myself in a part of Canadian and international history after watching this documentary.
Viewers are firstly educated about equestrianism; what it means to be a horseback rider, the role that horses have played across history, the definition of a long rider, people across history who have been long riders. Pairing historical footage and photographs from everything from the war, native American cultures, and Aimé Tschiffely’s own journey, helps establish the foundation for this documentary.
The centre of the film focuses on Leite’s journey and challenges, spotlighting the relationship he builds with his horses. There is just enough to understand his emotions, his journey’s details and what role the horses played at that time. Sometimes you are bombarded with so much extra details that you can’t keep track of what is important and what isn’t. It wasn’t the case here.
I very much appreciated the maps that were created by Esri, a GIS mapping software. For me, the collision of tech and filmmaking is how we engage the next generation of audiences. While fancy maps isn’t something new in film, utilizing technology that helps create accurate journey information is very cool.
Horses are the stars
I think Leite is a gem of a person, and I hope I get a chance to meet him someday.
The horses, however, are a heroes of this story.
Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude, and a few other of their friends that helped across the journey from Brazil to Canada. And of course the other horses that continued Leite’s journey beyond his initial trip.
I don’t think I am going to forget those names anytime soon.
Every scene highlights the magnificent role that these majestic beasts played in getting Leite home. Whether its battling a snowstorm, torrential rain, or the dramatic heat of the Montana sun, while Leite prioritized the horses and their well-being, the horses made the journey a reality. Leite’s footage and the creative team’s excellent work makes that possible.
Frenchie, for example, became so important to me as a viewer that I kept wondering if the horse was okay after major incidents. I actively cared for these animals, even while fully knowing that this was a journey that has already happened.
What I love about The Long Rider is that it presented a balanced narrative. It wasn’t just about the journey, but the destination. It wasn’t just about the rider, but about the horses. It wasn’t just about making history, but letting history to continue being created.
You must give The Long Rider a watch
I always let audiences decide if they want to see a film or not. Honestly, I look at films from a positive angle because its very easy to be picky about the negative things.
Fact is, we aren’t filmmakers. We aren’t going to cull 500-hours of footage to make a 90-minute story. Complaining about something is our right, but let’s face it, are most of us going to make it any better?
Cisterna’s films are quite personal to me. In fact, one of the first films I ever reviewed in my capacity was his feature film Moon Point. At that point I knew the kind of movies he creates, and how he hopes to impact audiences.
I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the ticket price you spend watching The Long Rider will be well worth it. In fact, it will either do one or all the following: entertain you, enlighten you, educate you, inspire you, make you feel good.
For me, even one of those things makes watching a film worth it. For me, The Long Rider did all of the above.
The Long Rider has now opened wide across Canada. Be sure to check a Cineplex near you for showtimes and tickets.