USA, 2011, 76 min
Lee Anne Schmitt (California Company Town, SFIFF 2009) turns her essayistic directorial style onto the mythic idea of the American Western frontier. Centering on an officially sanctioned annual hunt on one of the last free-ranging American bison herds, the film meditates on the iconography and activities associated with a special brand of American individuality as seen through the lens of a dying cowboy culture. Schmitt deftly poses the ideologies of frontierism and freedom against the practicalities of commodification and regulation. She displays the breathtaking open landscapes of southern Utah and presents the men who have worked its land for decades against a growing clutter of plastic teepees and casinos. Perhaps most troubling is the industry that has grown out of the hunt, now a mere tourist activity, an anachronistic experience for scrapbooks. The result is a rounded picture of the trajectory of the ideals surrounding our shared national narrative, an unvarnished look at the residue of a Western past and future. Schmitt continues her work of documenting culture through its detritus and decay. As in California Company Town, her approach is to let images and activities unfold and accumulate, allowing the duration of events to speak for themselves (recalling the work of experimental auteur James Benning.) The result is double-edged, as we are given access to the majestic beauty of an America we all desire, while we also witness it fading away.
Presented in association with San Francisco Cinematheque. US Premiere.