By Lisa Morgan
As Viggo Mortensen and director James Anaquad Kleinert prepared the video introduction to Spirit Riders, a documentary that was to be entered into the Cuban Film Festival, the Burns Amendment was passed. That amendment allowed the slaughter of wild American horses that have either reached their 10th birthday or have attended their third unsuccessful adoption (a program designed to relocate and “protect” America’s wild horses). Viggo and James were longtime friends who had met as James was filming the documentary Spirit Riders. They were both on a journey by horseback that retraced the treacherous route that Chief Big Foot took on their fateful journey to Wounded Knee. “I made that ride several times in the middle of winter in freezing cold snow and ice,” shared James who is of Seneca Indian decent. “The making of that film was very profound, as we went into the issues of the genocide that was committed upon American Indians and now, covering the recent cultural revival of native spirituality and reconnection to the horse. I was on that project for years.”
I asked James how those journeys affected him. “The film captured my experience… it’s pretty difficult to go there,” he said holding back the emotion in his voice. “The whole making of that, connected me more to the earth and the ecology and things that were going on. It motivated me and pointed me in the direction that I’m following. It changed my life. As I was completing the film I needed to get some good B-roll footage of wild horses. What I documented that day was brutal.” What James happened to film that day, was the shockingly violent roundup of American Wild Horses in a Wyoming mountain area now dominated by oil and gas drilling.
“Viggo and I have known each other for a long time now. When you’re riding horses across stark great western plains landscapes in the middle of winter, I would say close bonds and deep friendships are made. He has truly been a great champion of American Wild horses. He really lives up to what he says and what he does, and his activism career is quite impressive,” touts James. “When we learned of the Burns Amendment passing, I told him, ‘Well I’ve got all this footage of wild horses in this brutal round up in Wyoming; why don’t we make a short film?’ He immediately agreed, and we did the first short film called Wild Horse Sprit which aired on the Emmy award winning PBS show, Natural Heroes. That was the beginning of it. I did three short films, then the release of Wild Horses and Renegades. Now I’m in production of a sequel.”
The movie, Wild Horses and Renegades, features Viggo Mortensen, Daryl Hannah, Sheryl Crow, Peter Coyote and author Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves) just to name a few. Even rock band, U2 got involved by donating their song “Who’s going to Ride Your Wild Horses” to the movie that will be screened at the first annual AMFM Festival in Cathedral City, June 13-16th. Director, James Kleinert will be presenting and will be available to meet and discuss both his film making and his fight for the American wild horse.
“It’s been a long journey,” says James, who has had a relationship with horses since he was child. Swept away into pop culture as a teenager, he enjoyed a successful athletic career and was on the US Ski Team as a Mogul and Arial Acrobatic Skier. He also got into the screen actors guild as an actor/stunt man. It was a career ending injury that brought him back to horses. James says pointedly, “The film Wild Horses and Renegades is an incredibly powerful metaphor on what is happening in so many layers of our society right now, as the American Wild Horse is literally being managed into extinction. It is representative of the fact that our country is facing grave environmental and economic issues.”
In a letter to wild horse supporters, James writes: “Of the 2 million horses that once roamed the lands of the West in the late 1700’s, approximately 15,000 (just 1%) actually remain on our public lands. Removals/roundups have increased dramatically in the past 2 years, partly due to the sneaky Burns Amendment… Aggressive helicopter-driven roundups result in premature deaths due to stress, heat exhaustion, dehydration, unsafe holding pens or the heartbreak of the destruction of their family unit. The methods used in their removal are strikingly similar to methods of human extermination used during the holocaust. And this beautiful, resilient creature, who has carried humans on its back, fought wars, plowed fields and transported goods and humans across vast territory, has been reduced to imprisonment in a dry, crowded shade-less holding pen.”
James documentary hopes to inspire what is summed up in the words of M. Scott Momaday: “I’m hoping that man will save the horse, because in so many instances, the horse has saved the man.”
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