Governor Jared Polis, First Gentleman Marlon Ries, and a rapt audience respond with a standing ovation and expressions of concern for America’s wild horses
Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West, the long-awaited documentary project by filmmaker Ashley Avis, opened to its world premiere at the Breckenridge Film Festival on September 18 for a large audience that included Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his husband, First Gentleman Marlon Reis, and their family. At the conclusion of the film, the audience, many of whom were visibly moved, gave the film and its makers a sustained standing ovation.
Wild Beauty features stunning cinematography of wild horses living on vast stretches of federal lands in several western states, including Colorado. The film shows herds living peacefully on their habitat and engaging in the behaviors that make them so popular with the American people. Mares caring for their newborn foals and stallions dueling for supremacy are set against stunning landscapes, evoking the strong emotional bond we feel for horses and the love we feel for our wild places.
But the film also includes footage of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) helicopter roundup operations that documents the terror and violence experienced by the animals as they are stampeded into traps to be removed from our public lands.
While some of the scenes are painful to watch, Avis believes it is important to understand what is happening to the wild horses in the Western United States.
“We wanted to show a distinct juxtaposition between the sweeping beauty of wild horses, their families, and the lands they live on; along with the shocking brutality and cruelty that has befallen them,” says Avis. “The film is very immersive. Audiences get to experience the peace and quietude of nature, the profound interiority of being amongst the wild; and then they are hopefully jolted right out of their seats when that peace is shattered by low flying helicopters, rattling livestock trucks, and utterly outrageous behavior by The Bureau of Land Management.”
Avis and her crew also went undercover at a Texas livestock auction where horses, burros, and even zebras are sold to the highest bidder, with many ending up in the slaughter pipeline to be shipped to Mexico, where they are slaughtered, and their meat is sold to foreign companies.
“The auction was one of the most disturbing scenarios that we filmed, knowing the heartbreaking fate that so many of the wild horses and burros were headed toward,” says Avis. “We hoped that by showing the grim reality of what is occurring in our own country, that we can urge Congress to finally pass a federal law to shut down the horror of the slaughter pipeline and give horses and burros the protection they rightfully deserve.”
Best known for directing Disney’s 2020 feature film, Black Beauty – a modern retelling of Anna Sewell’s classic resting on the story’s titular character being captured in a U.S. government roundup – Avis said when she began learning the truth about what is happening to America’s wild herds, she couldn’t stop with that project. She launched The Wild Beauty Foundation in 2020 to use her platform in entertainment to try to help, and also connect with children.
Following the film in Breckenridge, a panel of experts that included Avis, her production crew, experts appearing in the film, and First Gentleman Marlon Reis, spoke to the audience about the message of the movie and more details on the need to reform the federal government’s wild horse and public lands policies.
“I’m all in on this issue,” proclaimed Reis, who remarked on the contrast between the beauty of the horses and the brutality of the helicopter roundups. He told the audience he believed that art has a way of fostering conversations in a way that normal policy debates cannot. Both he and Governor Polis actively worked to convince the BLM from stop the roundup of the Sand Wash Basin horses last year and the Piceance Basin horses over the summer.
The BLM conducted those operations despite those efforts and widespread public opposition, but Reis said he believes Colorado can lead the way by fostering a new working relationship between state and federal partners that reflects Colorado’s core humane values and sets a new path for the wild equine herds.
Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West was next shown at The Boston Film Festival, and will be screening at DOC LA, Newport Beach Film Festival, St. Louis International Film Festival, and Fort Lauderdale Film Festival later this year. More information can be found on the Wild Beauty website.
Avis and her crew are in talks with a number of streaming platforms to begin broad public distribution of the film.
Learn more at www.wildbeautyfoundation.org
Watch the WILD BEAUTY Official Trailer