I wish I hadn’t watched ‘The Long Rider’

One of the main consequences of coming out of a break is missing opportunities as you try to get things going again.

For a moment I almost missed the chance to see The long ridera new film from award-winning Canadian filmmaker Sean Cisterna.

I would have regretted it if I had.

Cisterna is one of those filmmakers who have a knack for bringing stories to life that make you vibrate.

The long rider is no different.

Attracted by the movie

If “the story of a guy riding horses from Canada to Brazil” isn’t enough to convince you to add this movie to your watch list, then let me help you out with a few more reasons.

Horseback riding – or riding – is a disciplined activity that showcases the strong bond between man and animal. A long rider is someone who travels 1000 or more consecutive miles on horseback. This film is a mixture of both worlds, and much more.

The long rider chronicles Filipe Masetti Leite’s journey from Canada to Brazil, and the subsequent journeys he takes to define who he is. In total, the man traveled more than 25,000 km in 8 years.

Honestly, I didn’t know Leite’s story before watching this documentary. I didn’t do any research either. I don’t know much about riding as it is, other than my love of horses and their majestic aura.

The experience I had was mind blowing, for lack of a better way to put it. What I really didn’t expect was to learn the kind of bond a human being can have with an animal, beyond what we see in domesticated animals like cats and dogs . The long rider put a lot of things into perspective for me.

Documentaries are by far my favorite genre of film and TV. It’s not that fiction or stories based on real life are bad. They feature some of the best talent in the world, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of having in-depth conversations with.

However, documentaries provide an opportunity for audiences to reflect, understand and debate viewpoints on topics and conversations that are critical to our society.

The long rider gave me a chance to really reflect, and I’m grateful for that.

The long rider

The relationships at the heart of The long rider

The long rider for me, it’s a story that captures three things: the relationship we have with mother nature, the relationship we have with each other as human beings, and the importance we place on ourselves.

Throughout this documentary, as a viewer, you are greeted by nature at its best. At the center of this are the beautiful horses that take Leite on his dangerous journey. We see beautiful animals that show a sense of undivided loyalty to a man who has shown them the same. Hearing how riders always put their animals before themselves, and seeing Leite do just that, humbles you as a person. We consider ourselves the masters of everything, but the trade shows you that without everything else, you are nothing.

Watching Leite embrace and care for mother nature, understand her, cry for her, moves you in a way that I honestly cannot explain in words. There are moments in this movie that just made me cry. Not because I was sad, but because I understood.

I felt pain when it was painful, I felt happiness when things were happy. I just couldn’t explain it to anyone.

On the other hand, it broke my heart to see how we humans treat each other. With a trip that conquered so many geographical areas, it shed light on the geopolitical issues we are used to hearing about. Seeing human beings take advantage of a man who loves more than his horses just tore my emotions apart.

What gave me hope was the importance we humans place on ourselves. You had Leite who refused to let adversity get the better of him. No amount of financial demands and no amount of expectation was going to break it; his partners (the beautiful horses) and his course were his priority, and he was going to change the people around him to move forward.

And people did.

Seeing people from places like Mexico and Honduras – places stricken with violence and corruption – rally around this man and join him on his journey of solidarity has warmed my heart. It gave me hope that we, as a people, could truly see the bigger picture beyond our political and personal ambitions, a message that I feel is very important to convey today. To see these individuals involved in cartels show warmth and compassion; I mean, stuff like that upends your stereotypical view of people and what buckets to put them with.

If anything, the film makes you question our inner motivation as people and leaves us questioning the way we do things.

The long rider

Beautiful pictures. Direction and editing of masterclasses.

The fact that this trip from Canada to Brazil lasted 2 years still amazes me today as I write this article.

What reminds me even more is how much of a journey Leite was able to document and record, filming himself and with the help of strangers and friends he met along the way.

This documentary was built from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, paired with so much archival footage and historic photography. Spend some time browsing through the end credits and you’ll see how many people and organizations went into making this movie.

Leite’s images are a gift for viewers. It chronicles his entire journey, through good and bad, and allows you, as viewers, to experience every detail to the fullest in as raw a format as possible. Leite’s additional involvement in the cinematography of the journey and his role as the film’s narrator round out the final product, verifying the journey presented to us.

This film is a masterclass in directing and editing by Cisterna and Lee Walker respectively. Many others have written about the amount of effort it takes to find historical footage and really incorporate it into the production.

For me, more impressive than research and homework is the creation of a production that allows someone like me who knows nothing about any of these subjects to leave this film after 90 minutes feeling educated and informed. The film took nearly two years to edit, and it shows in every frame.

I feel like I immersed myself in a piece of Canadian and international history after watching this documentary.

Viewers are first made aware of horse riding; what it means to be a rider, the role horses have played throughout history, the definition of a long rider, people throughout history who have been long riders. Combining historical footage and photography of everything from warfare, Native American cultures, and Aimé Tschiffely’s own journey helps lay the groundwork for this documentary.

The center of the film focuses on Leite’s journey and challenges, highlighting the relationship he builds with his horses. There is just enough to understand his emotions, the details of his journey and the role that horses played at that time. Sometimes you’re bombarded with so many extra details that you can’t keep track of what’s important and what isn’t. This was not the case here.

I really enjoyed the maps created by Esri, a GIS mapping software. For me, the collision of technology and cinema is how we engage the next generation of audiences. While fancy maps aren’t something new in film, the use of technology that helps create accurate ride information is pretty cool.

The long rider

The horses are the stars

I think Leite is a rare pearl and I hope to have the chance to meet him one day.

The horses, however, are the heroes of this story.

Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude, and a few more of their friends who helped along the journey from Brazil to Canada. And of course the other horses that continued Leite’s journey beyond his original journey.

I don’t think I’ll forget those names anytime soon.

Each scene highlights the magnificent role these majestic beasts played in bringing Leite home. Whether battling a blizzard, torrential rain or the dramatic heat of the Montana sun, while Leite put the horses and their welfare first, the horses made the journey a reality. Leite’s images and the excellent work of the creative team make this possible.

Frenchie, for example, became so important to me as a spectator that I kept wondering if the horse was okay after major incidents. I actively cared for these animals, knowing full well that this was a journey that has already happened.

What I like The long rider is that he presented a balanced narrative. It wasn’t just about the journey, but the destination. It wasn’t just the rider, but the horses. It wasn’t just about making history, it was about letting history continue to be created.

The long rider

you have to give The long rider a watch

I always let the public decide if they want to see a film or not. Honestly, I look at movies in a positive light because it’s so easy to be picky about negative things.

The thing is, we’re not filmmakers. We’re not going to cut 500 hours of footage to make a 90 minute story. Complaining about something is our right, but let’s face it, will most of us make the situation any better?

Cisterna’s films are quite personal to me. In fact, one of the first films I saw in my capacity was his feature film tip of the moon. At that time, I knew the kind of films he creates and how he hopes to impact audiences.

I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ticket price you spend watching The long rider will be well worth it. In fact, it will do either one or all of the following: entertain you, enlighten you, educate you, inspire you, make you feel good.

For me, even one of those things makes watching a movie worthwhile. For me, The long rider did all of the above.

The Long Rider is now wide open across Canada. Be sure to check out a Cineplex near you for timetables and tickets.

Photos courtesy of the creative team. © Mythical Productions. All rights reserved.

Earnest L. Veasey