For John Sears, known as Mule, home is wherever his feet are because he is a nomad who travels with three mules fighting for the right to walk and roam freely in the United States. In Call Me Mule, documentary filmmaker John McDonald follows Mule, at 65 years old, as he makes his way to Sacramento, California, to deliver a letter to the governor’s office to uphold American’s freedom to roam right.
Mule has spent years roaming the American West with his three-pack mules Lady, Pepper, and Little Girl. They travel as a team through the wilderness, towns, and cities where the public is allowed. Mule takes care of his mules, ensuring they have places to graze and access to water. He cleans after them, and he is their farrier. Mule keeps records of his spending and, through social media, offers over a thousand people access to his travel posts. On his pannier boxes are cutouts that say 3mules.com, where he hopes those who see him will take the time to learn more about him and his passion.
Worn, thin, ornery, but strong, Mule would rather be outside than elsewhere. As he enters and leaves towns, newscasters report on his visits, and police officers give him citations for trespassing as he states his purpose—outspoken and fearless. In other places, Mule is given places to graze his mules, water, and other hand him money. Children jump for joy when they see him and his mules—and everyone wants to snap a photo of Mule and his four-legged lady trekkers. Following public trails, including highways, main streets, and overpasses, Mule reveals how cars have ruined our open spaces. He is adamant in his beliefs and is not afraid to speak his mind to authorities and others.
“…to deliver a letter to the governor’s office to uphold American’s freedom to roam right.”
As a modern-day drifter passing oil derricks, Mule is always in juxtaposition in modern society, which he says is suffering an imbalance. Compared to a monk, Mule believes in the flow of energy from his mules and the land. He makes all his food but connects with those who support them and keeps certain people in mind when needing help. He has one smart device for his website, a flip phone to reach out to make plans for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and a few women who care about him and his mules.
John McDonald, along with the film’s editor and his daughter Nina Schwanse, create an involved and fascinating journey that calls into question how America’s public lands have less and less access. Call Me Mule is also about a man caring for his animals. At the same time, we watch him in triumph and defeat with arrests and incarceration while always maintaining his right to a nomadic lifestyle with his mules.
McDonald captured up close and personal stories with great camera angles and shots, allowing a visual story to unfold through Mule and those who come across him without a narrator. In addition, music by The Crooked Jades adds to the nomadic Western culture vibe that Mule represents.
A well-crafted documentary, Call Me Mule, maintains one’s attention to the end and begs the question that perhaps Mule’s conviction is something to consider and that public pathways and spaces can be suitable for all.
For screening information, visit the Call Me Mule official website.
"…always in juxtaposition in modern society"