Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West Image

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West

By Calan Panchoo | June 6, 2023

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West, directed by Ashley Avis, is a documentary in conflict with itself. On the one hand, it is a conceptually compelling tale of wildlife mismanagement. On the other hand, it is replete with tiresome and amateurish storytelling. Unfortunately for both the director and the viewer, the film’s indisposed side prevails, as the fundamental filmic errors are so numerous that the film becomes a chore to sit through.

The film examines the problem of dwindling wild horse populations in the American West. However, the film struggles to find a voice of its own, largely because it is so frequently (and literally) voiced by the director herself. While Avis is undoubtedly passionate about the subject, she struggles to focus her thronging emotion into something constructive or translatable to the viewer. For example, in deconstructing the factors surrounding the decline in horses, the filmmaker quickly decides on a villain (telling terminology) in the form of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

While the culprit certainly has much to do with the problem — such as how they incarcerate and euthanize horses based on dubious science — the nature of the issue overall is quite plainly multifaceted. Regardless, Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West is satisfied to blame this singular institution ad nauseam rather than continue to peel back the manifold layers that influence the situation, such as economics and human motivation. To this extent, the major misgiving of this enterprise is how it forces editorialized interpretations onto the viewer.

“…dwindling wild horse populations in the American West.”

The film begins with a needless monologue from the director about what horses mean to her. The problem is that this narration, like much of the film, is so tangential that it comes across as conceited. Routinely the documentary will make a flurry of conjectural claims it hasn’t had time to prove or explore satisfactorily. This has the secondary effect of robbing the viewer of the opportunity to forge their own emotional connection to the issue, let alone their own opinion.

That being said, praise does need to be given to the cinematography team. Images of wild horses cordially grazing with their herd or young stallions fighting in the simmering landscapes are captured with startling vividness. It is one of the few ways in which the gravitas of the topic shines through the editing and story structure. But, impressive though the cinematography may be, the visuals are so often accompanied by Avis’s narration that their power inevitably wanes. It is as if Avis is intent on being not only the director but she must be at the center of this documentary about horses as well.

Thus, while the issues Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West raises are of doubtless importance, a beleaguered presentation imprisons them. While the deleterious effects of bureaucratic over-management are great and require attention, the documentary itself is so emotionally unrefined that it falls prey to its own kind of cinematic bureaucracy. At its very foundation, the film suffers from the age-old failing of telling but not showing.

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West (2023)

Directed and Written: Ashley Avis

Starring: Ashley Avis, etc.

Movie score: 4.5/10

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit Of The West Image

"…praise does need to be given to the cinematography..."

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