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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

The Mustang

by director/co-writer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

After reading an article about “animal therapy” taking place in various prisons around the world, I discovered the purpose of this so-called alternative rehabilitation therapy. The animal’s unconditional love and obvious lack of judgment can reassure and slowly help a prisoner to learn how to become re-socialized.

Prisoners so infrequently experience tender physical contact that the intimacy and warmth of an animal acts as a soothing balm to the spirit, curing or softening anxieties. Additionally, the very notion of being trusted to take care of an animal encourages the inmate’s sense of responsibility and purpose.

After spending time with several therapists and trainers in such facilities, I noticed with amazement that inmates participating in the program seemed much more at ease with their animal counterparts than the counselors running the program. I also came to appreciate the beneficial impact of these rather odd and unexpected pairings—frequently brutish men with their sometimes extremely sensitive horses.

My prior short-form work also dealt with lonely characters living on the fringe of society, all suffering from their circumstantial lack of freedom. The subject itself has the potential for a great documentary; however, the poetic license that a fictional narrative provides seems to cut even deeper to the core of my character and main theme. These recently captured wild mustangs blatantly mirror the prisoner’s internalized violence and yearning for freedom. Therefore, I could best describe the film as a poetic social drama incorporating some western elements.

I want to explore several ideas with the film: Is it the justice system’s responsibility to ensure that a criminal will eventually be reintroduced safely into society, or simply to see their deserved punishment carried out during an inmate’s long stay? Do people, even after committing severe crimes, deserve a second chance? Can we on the outside ultimately forgive extreme acts of brutality based on the degree of violence and/or the specific details surrounding the individual’s circumstances? Perhaps more importantly, can the individuals in question ever forgive themselves? What is our innate human potential for redemption?

These questions are the driving force of the film’s narrative style and structure. Nothing here is intended to be didactic or approached in an academically explicit manner. With the help of a fluid and agile camera, the audience is meant to fully immerse in the experience of the program as our protagonist experiences it. This is why so much screen time is devoted to the procedural nature of the inmate’s daily routine with their horses. I aimed to balance an observational “docudrama” approach with stylistically heightened sequences in hopes to achieve a most delicate symmetry. Certain classical “prison” and “western” genre elements were introduced to initially grab the viewers’ attention, but as the film progresses, its focus shifts less towards twists and turns and more in the direction of something truer, simpler, and ultimately, more character-driven.

At the film’s conclusion, you are left with a character who, although he remains deeply flawed, has earned his “potential for redemption” more than any protagonist ever has....

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