Documentary Review: ‘Bitterbrush’

Greetings again from the darkness. The work of director Emelie Mahdavian and cinematographers Derek Howard and Alejandro Mejio make this one worth watching if only for the wide panoramic views and stunning landscapes of the wild west in today’s America. However, the views are really the bonus, as the focus is on Colie Moline and Hollyn Patterson, two cattle wranglers working together on a job in Idaho.

Colie and Hollyn have partnered on jobs for ‘around’ 5 years, though neither is sure how long it’s been. Some will be surprised that two women have become so proficient at herding cattle – a job that has traditionally been the domain of men, the cowboys we are accustomed to. Make no mistake, Colie and Hollyn are real cowboys (cowpersons?) and they are experts at managing cattle, horses, dogs, the terrain, the weather, and the solitude.

We ride along with them through Idaho, though at times, we feel like intruders. Colie and Hollyn enjoy the life, have an efficient partnership, and have grown to be friends despite their differences. Hollyn is moving towards a more traditional life (out of necessity), while Colie dreams of having her own ranch. This seasonal work is for 4 months and covers late spring, summer heat, and early snow. They are truly hired hands, and one extended sequence finds Colie working to break a horse. It recalls the 2011 documentary, BUCK, on horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, but here there is no audience and no ‘show’. It’s just a hired hand putting in the work.

Neither have a “real home”, which becomes a factor as spreading the ashes of a beloved dog constitutes a challenge. Being away from family during special events and illness is part of the job, as well as part of the conversation. Director Mahdavian utilizes expertly played and beautiful Bach piano music as accompaniment, but we can’t help but feel this is cheating. Why should we hear this when the two women doing the work only hear the sounds of nature? Their toughness and resilience are quite something to behold.

In theaters on June 17, 2022 and On Demand beginning June 24, 2022

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