A Film Review by the Editor
“The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses” is more than a documentary—it’s a cultural examination, a look behind the curtain of the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and a day in the life of several horse and human characters doing their best to be part of the solution to an ever-mounting controversy. In the process, this film takes us on a historical journey that is both beautiful and, at times, brutal. It doesn’t take sides, doesn’t push an agenda, and doesn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, “The Mustangs” tells it like it is: the American Mustang are our horses—they are a national icon deeply woven into the fabric of this country—and, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Philipps rightly explains, “we should have it in our national ability to preserve our icons.”
The American mustang stands proud in our cultural awareness. Using Americana like the Lone Ranger and Ford Mustang, this film reminds us that even the word “mustang” signifies untamed freedom, loyalty, strength, and speed—a reliable companion—in our collective conscience. Honestly, who wouldn’t want an SUV, or anything for that matter, “with the heart of a mustang?”
But our horses are in crisis, and it’s basically our fault. “The Mustangs” lays it out quite well: we discovered the mustang, we captured or killed 100s of thousands of them until they were severely depleted, we passed a law protecting them, and now they multiply unbounded and will continue until they exhaust their natural resources and die off. Now, there are 90,000+ wild horses on BLM lands that are (somewhat arbitrarily) calculated to support only 27,000 and more than 50,000 mustangs in “government storage.” Philipps rightly asks, “How do we get out of this mess?” This film doesn’t pretend to have the answer, but it does introduce us to several people and organizations who are doing what they can to help preserve, protect, and responsibly manage our wild horses on America’s public lands.
Being a disabled veteran of Operation Iraq Freedom, I’m compelled to mention one such organization: Operation Wild Horse (whom we’ve featured in the magazine) pairs veterans with mustangs to remarkable results. Riders young and old, veterans from the Gulf Wars to the Korean War, each battling some kind of demon, come out to clean stalls, groom, walk, ride, and love on previously wild mustangs. One American icon connects with another and they “become civilians together” (one veteran’s apt and poignant comment I’ll likely never forget). Add that to the film’s warhorse images of our equine brothers and sisters in arms fighting under or alongside us and I’m overwhelmed with feelings of respect and gratitude for such selfless service we can never truly thank them for. But we should try.
“The Mustangs” is a cinematic spark for inspired action. It tells the story of an incredibly resilient animal, and as Executive Producer Robert Redford reminds us in the film’s opening, that story is still being written—by us. Then it points us at people and organizations that are doing what they can to write a synergistic ending and illustrates how one person, someone like Wild Horse Annie—or you—can play a leading role. “The Mustangs” takes no stance, it simply explains we have a problem that we don’t know how to fix, but then it seems to look back at you and ask, “maybe you do?”
Executive Producers Robert Redford, Patti Scialfa Springsteen, and Team USA Olympic equestrian silver medalist, Jessica Springsteen, have helped create a truly moving film worthy of its subject. The score, with songs by Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and an original piece written for this film by 12-time Oscar-nominated songwriter, Diane Warren, and performed by Blanco Brown, keeps the pace and the emotions running high.
“The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses” will be released theatrically in October, and then launched on TVOD in late November. Next month, the film is premiering at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Heartland International Film Festival, the Edmonton International Film Festival, the Film Fest 919, Film Fest Tucson, and the Napa Valley Film Festival.