’Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait’
“Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait,” releases worldwide on Nov. 17, 2020, and the five year journey of the co-directors — Bud Force and John Langmore — reveals itself in the end product to be a trip borne out of respect and authentic experience in the world of working cowboys and big outfits. While aerial cinematography captures the beauty of America’s expansive and isolated cattle ranches, film on the ground intimately acquaints viewers with not only the gritty daily work, but also with the personalities and thoughts of the cowboys themselves, shared via one-on-one interviews throughout the film. It is an 85-minute window into the life of working cowboys, put together by co-directors intimately familiar with the subject.
Bud Force and John Langmore both have histories directly tied to the working cowboy. Force is a former bull rider who currently splits his time filmmaking and working on ranches, while Langmore is a long-time former working cowboy whose recent photography book, “Open Range,” documents the life of the contemporary American cowboy. The pair met in 2015, when Force just happened to rent office space next to Langmore. Once they connected and realized their shared life experiences, a vision to create an accurate documentary of the contemporary working cowboy began to take shape.
“I don’t feel like the agriculture world has traditionally done a great job of promoting itself,” said Force about one of their goals for putting together the documentary. “Cowboys by default aren’t out there tooting their own horn. It is part of the culture not to brag about yourself or say what you do. So the cowboys were never going to go and tell their own story and most filmmakers that I know don’t come from a cowboy background like John and I do. It is difficult for outsiders to try to articulate this story without already understanding it at least on some level. I think the ranches we went to… they understood what we were trying to do and they embraced it.”
“They were open to it,” said Langmore. “A lot of the ranches I had (already) been to… and Bud knew some of the guys up in the Texas panhandle, so there was a pre-existing relationship where they knew us and knew our relationship to that world from earlier days. I think they were comfortable with how we were going to tell the story, which is obviously a real issue, especially for kind of a closed community like the cowboy world. They are a little reluctant to open up to outsiders and they care how their story is told.”
THE WHOLE PICTURE
Although most views into working ranches and the American west tend to use a broad brush and romanticize the cowboy life, Force and Langmore approached the project with a determination to paint the whole picture. Stunning beauty and cowboy cool are naturally present, but the duo also colored in details and respectfully presented a full canvas that displayed harsh winters, isolation, gritty work, the natural cycle of life and death, some humor, and the emotional highs and lows of the personal lives of their subjects.
“There was some intention at the outset to show the reality of this way of life,” said Langmore. “We have watched a ton of westerns, and almost all of them including documentaries, overly romanticize the cowboy way of life. It is so easy to do. We went in with an intention not to do that and what we wanted to do was combine the great cinematic experience of a western that clearly makes them appealing to a world at large, but also making it very authentic, which is the gritty piece of it. We well understood that this is a low paid, very challenging, dangerous, remote, isolated, and difficult way of life and we wanted that to come through.”
Unlike Hollywood reality shows, Force and Langmore did it without scripts or staging.
“Nothing was staged,” said Force about their filming. “There was not a single scene in ‘Cowboys’ that was staged, outside of the interviews, of course. We just showed up at certain times of the year, knowing what we wanted to capture — shipping in the fall or branding in the spring — we would show up at those times, but then we were at the mercy of what was going on at the ranch. We were simply flies on the wall and documented what we saw. Then once the workday was done, we would find a spot to do an interview, sit down a few cowboys and simply have a conversation with them.”
The five year journey of creating the documentary, including sorting through almost 200 hours of usable footage, creating custom music and sound, and also obtaining rights to a Dean Martin song, was then put into the capable hands of Emmy award winning editor, Lucas J. Harger.
“(The documentary) is like a living, breathing body,” described Force. “But the editor and the editing is like the blood of the film. It goes throughout every other element and nothing else can survive without that blood flowing through it. Lucas Harger really took this super thoughtful approach in learning about the cowboy and trying to tell this story just as meaningfully as we were hoping to do it.”
“We cannot give him enough credit for the way this turned out,” added Langmore. “He deserves mention when you talk about the film.”
With the documentary’s worldwide release upon them, Langmore reflected on the personal satisfaction obtained from the initial reactions of the film’s subjects.
“Thankfully, the reception to the completed film, I think, has kind of vindicated their willingness to have us on the ranch,” Langmore stated. “They view it as an authentic portrayal of their way of life. We don’t glamorize what they do, but it is clear we have a lot of respect for that way of life and that we told it very authentically.”
“Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait” will be released on Nov. 17, 2020 on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play TV plus Blu-ray and DVD. You can also learn more about it from their website at https://www.thecowboymovie.com.
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Hudspeth County, Texas — In the fall of 2019, ranch hands were gathering a bull when they noticed something out of place. One of their employer’s cows was freshly branded, with someone else’s brand.