Buck’ Opens SummerDocs

Buck Brannaman, who helped train Robert Redford for his role in “The Horse Whisperer,” has his own cinematic story told in the first SummerDocs offering, “Buck.” Cindy Meehl

    The Hamptons International Film Festival and Guild Hall have joined forces once again for a SummerDocs series, to begin on Saturday at 8 p.m. with “Buck” at Guild Hall.
    The film is an examination of the life of a man who developed a great gift for communicating with horses through the focus and empathy he himself needed to overcome a difficult childhood. Buck Brannaman lost his adoring mother in childhood and was left in the care of an abusive father. It wasn’t until a foster family took over his care that he regained the love and support that would help him find a career helping emotionally wounded animals.
    The film’s producer, Julie Goldman, a 15-year veteran of documentary production, said on Friday, “Buck is really inspiring. He transformed all of us. He’s just this unique guy. His work and what he does is really transformative.”
    If the story sounds somewhat familiar, it is because a novel and a movie were made about Mr. Brannaman’s line of work — “The Horse Whisperer.” While the fictional tale has nothing to do with Mr. Brannaman’s actual life story, Robert Redford did employ him as a trainer on the set of the movie and incorporated many of his techniques in it.
    The project was brought to Ms. Goldman’s attention by Cindy Meehl, a first-time filmmaker, but, Ms. Goldman said, once she saw the initial footage she was hooked. “Once we became involved we thought the ideal way to move forward was to put together a great team to support her as a filmmaker.”
    More than 300 hours of footage ended up being shot for a 90-minute feature. “There was so much rich material and many tough decisions to be made,” Ms. Goldman said. “Buck” was selected as the audience favorite at the Sundance Film Festival and will open on June 17 in New York and California before a wider release.
    “I did not go into it hugely enthusiastic,” David Nugent, the head of programming for the Hamptons festival, said. “But a producer friend came out loving it. And I love animals, but I didn’t know what to think about it.”
    Once he saw it at Sundance, however, “I was really amazed at how a man can communicate with an animal as big and complex as a horse. I was so moved by this film.” In the buzz that accompanies any film festival, he said, “all you talk about is what did you think of this or that. I really don’t know anybody who didn’t like this film.”
    Karen Arikian, the executive director of the Hamptons festival, said the documentary series, which was expanded from three to four offerings this summer, is part of an effort to provide programs affiliated with the festival year round. (A related story appears in this issue on the Summer Sunday Classics series the festival is presenting outdoors at Solé East in Montauk.)
    “We are trying to serve our audience at a time when the Hamptons is the Hamptons, those summer months,” Ms. Arikian said. The response has been more than positive. “From the very first screening of the film ‘The Cove,’ ”  which won the Oscar for best documentary in 2010, “every one has sold out.”
    “There’s an audience out there that wants to see good, challenging work. We’re now a mini-brand. People know they’re going to see a great movie with a great conversation after it.”
    Typically Alec Baldwin serves as host for the series, but he will be away working on a movie. In his place will be James Lipton, who will lead a discussion with Ms. Meehl after the screening. Mr. Brannaman had also planned to attend, but, Mr. Nugent said, he was called to do a charity event in Wyoming. He will record a special greeting for the screening.
    Mr. Nugent said that finding a great film and then having at least one or ideally two people involved in the production come to the screening makes lining up films challenging. Mr. Baldwin is an active participant in the selection process.
    Next in the series, on July 22, is “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” a yearlong look at how the newspaper company functions set against “the new media landscape,” Mr. Nugent said. “What sets it apart are that the characters in it are really good. David Carr, one of the editors, has an interesting life, much in the way Buck has.”
    The last two are still being determined. They will be shown in August and September. “Most films released in the summer have the number three in the title and feature explosions and bad dialogue,” Mr. Nugent said. “This is such a great counterpoint.”
    The festival will return Oct. 13 to 17. All-access passes are available for purchase now.
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