‘The Rider’ Director Chloé Zhao to Helm Biopic About Bass Reeves, the First Black U.S. Marshall, for Amazon Studios

It will be her third feature.

Don’t expect Chloé Zhao to ride off into the sunset anytime soon. With her acclaimed new film in theaters after winning acclaim on the festival circuit over the last year, she’s now set her follow-up: a biopic about Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshall, for Amazon Studios. It will be her third feature, following “Songs My Brother Taught Me” (which premiered at Sundance in 2015) and “The Rider.”

Zhao will both write and direct the historical Western, reports Deadline, which “follow Reeves’ journey as a young man born into slavery in 1838 who fled to the Indian Territory in search of freedom and went on to become one of the greatest lawmen of the American West.”

“The Rider” premiered at Cannes, where it won the Art Cinema Award, and went on to receive Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Feature, Director, Editing, and Cinematography; Zhao was also honored with the inaugural Bonnie Award, which recognizes female filmmakers and includes a $50,000 grant.

Amazon Studios Lands Biopic on Bass Reeves, First Black U.S. Deputy Marshal, From ‘The Rider’ Helmer Chloé Zhao

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios will be the studio behind Chloé Zhao’s untitled Bass Reeves biopic, a historical Western about the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal.
Zhao is writing and will direct the pic, which will follow Reeves’ journey as a yo…

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Studios will be the studio behind Chloé Zhao’s untitled Bass Reeves biopic, a historical Western about the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal. Zhao is writing and will direct the pic, which will follow Reeves’ journey as a young man born into slavery in 1838 who fled to the Indian Territory in search of freedom and went on to become one of the greatest lawmen of the American West. Zhao made her directorial debut with the film Songs My Brothers Taught Me

‘Lean on Pete’ and ‘The Rider’: Two Bold Westerns Show What Foreign-Born Directors Can Bring to the Genre

IndieWire spoke with U.K. filmmaker Andrew Haigh and China-born Chloé Zhao about the joy and difficulties of shooting the exotic West.

The best Westerns often come from outsiders. Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winner “High Noon,” Fritz Lang’s “Rancho Notorious,” William Wyler’s “The Big Country,” Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas” — all from Germans and Austrians. And of course, Sergio Leone’s classics starring Clint Eastwood were filmed by an Italian in Spain.

Now we can add U.K. filmmaker Andrew Haigh and China-born Chloé Zhao to their number. Neither set out to comment on classic western genre tropes with “Lean on Pete” (A24) and “The Rider” (Sony Pictures Classics), both of which earned raves on the festival circuit before hitting theaters this month. They shot in the badlands of Colorado and South Dakota, respectively. And both filmmakers explore the relationship between young men, their horses, and the nature that surrounds them. (Their distributors are slowly rolling them out across the heartland.)

“The Rider”

“The Rider”

New Yorker Zhao shot her 2013 documentary “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” in South Dakota. “The connection, the relationship between human beings and nature, is something that did not come natural to me,” she said. “I didn’t understand it or explore it growing up. In my late 20s, I felt I needed it, I don’t have it in my life. I went out West; Pine Ridge is the place I ended up at. It’s a pretty extreme place compared to New York. It was great for me to have boot camp, to go cold turkey on something I’m used to. It was a great way for me to balance as a person and as a storyteller.”

While shooting, Zhao found herself drawn to charismatic young Lakota cowboy Brady Jandreau. In 2016, he suffered a horrific rodeo accident when a bucking bronco broke his skull, sending him into a three-day coma. When he emerged, doctors told him to give up the riding and competing that defined his life. Now, the filmmaker had a story.

Within months, she started her five-week shoot with cinematographer Joshua James Richards. “I didn’t want to stop after the first film,” she said on the phone. “I wanted to explore even more. It wasn’t enough. I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted to just go deeper. When I met Brady, I had the perfect vehicle for it.”

In one shot, we see Brady as the film character Brady, reacting to video of his very real accident. In another, he whispers a prayer to his beloved horse Gus (played by another horse), after he finds out his father is selling him. It’s magic hour, he gently climbs on his back, and it’s stunning. “That was the very first scene I wrote for the whole movie,” said Zhao. “Brady described going outside when it was still dark, with Gus standing there looking at him, waiting for him to ride him, Gus was the first horse. We cast a different, lighter horse, who was better for magic hour.  At this time the world hadn’t woke up yet. It’s just this boy and this horse, no voices. It gives him all the space in the world to make that decision. It’s no big dramatic moment, it’s completely internal. It was important to us to make sure that nature plays into it — and the beauty.”

It took three magic hours to film the minute-and-a-half scene. (A horse with no halter can easily walk away.) And magic hour lasts for only half an hour.

“The Rider”

Zhao walks a delicate tightrope between fact and fiction, using Brady’s real friends and family for her cast of non-pros. His father Tim Jandreau had to agree, of course. And eventually, he did, even though the parent he plays is tougher and less kind. Brady was training wild horses within a month, in a corral 60 miles away from the nearest hospital, getting on them while they were bucking, although he’s given up rodeo. “I trust that Brady knows where his limit is,” said Zhao.

Brady doesn’t have a seizure in his hand; that’s performance. And accident victim Lane Scott suffered a car crash; in the editing process Zhao realized audiences would assume it was a rodeo incident, and let it go.

“Factually, only 40 percent is fake,” she said. “Many things happened naturally. Brady is a specific personality; I knew how he would react and speak within the scene, but 90 percent he’s acting. Real-life scenes are with with Lily, the horses, and improvised scenes with Lane. The real Brady is an upbeat, talkative funny guy, definitely not that somber. He’s playing a character for sure.”

“Lean on Pete”

“I like going to a new environment with open eyes,” Haigh said on the phone. He spent four months checking out the Portland, Ore. suburbs where the movie begins, going to the horse races at Portland Meadows, and driving the desert route through Idaho to Denver, choosing locations for the road movie’s second half. This time, given the exotic terrain, he did get a bigger budget: $8 million from UK funding and the BFI, with A24 picking up North American rights early on.

“Lean on Pete” is another story of a boy (Charlie Plummer) in love with a horse. But, said Haigh, “in the end, it was always about Charley, not the horse or the world he’s living in. It’s his isolation. Here was a good kid who wants normal things in life but because of his situation is allowed to fall through the cracks, left alone in the world, desperate and longing. It drew me, I felt for that kid, I was amazed at his reliance, the hope he clings on to in an unhopeful situation. He has a broken heart.”

A lot happens to Charley that makes his life difficult as he pushes to get what he seeks: stability and security. “He’s a good kid who wants to be loved and protected, but doesn’t feel he deserves that love and protection,” said Haigh.

“Lean on Pete”

Charlie has a relationship with his boss, a craggy racehorse owner (Steve Buscemi) and his jaded female jockey (Chloe Sevigne). However, their ability to help is limited and Charley’s main relationship is with Pete. “He tells things to the horse, his only friend, who he’s so desperate to care for,” said Haigh. “Both are being abandoned by the people who are supposed to look after them, but he doesn’t have the strength to look after the horse.”

Casting was key. Haigh had to find a young actor of a certain age who could carry every scene. “The thing I was most anxious about was not only did I need someone who was incredibly good as an actor, on the cusp of being a child and an adult, but I wanted a Charley who looks grown-up as a little boy lost in the world, who you believe could drive a truck but who is not a fully fledged adult. Charlie Plummer could understand on a fundamental level and was able to bring something subtle and interesting to the role I wasn’t expecting.”

All of Haigh’s films are about a feeling. “I dig into something, and find a way to get there,” he said. “I knew it was about the end of the film. The endings to me are the key moment — in ‘Weekend’, and ’45 Years.’ I know how I want my gut to feel at the ending. Even if I can’t articulate in words what that feeling is, I’m trying to find ways to get there.” Sometimes that means holding back and making the audience work a little harder. “It’s almost an investment between the audience and me as filmmaker. We’re going to do this together, and I will give you some emotional catches that won’t come when you think.”

The feeling he summons is universal and packs a gut punch. “We can all understand that feeling of being alone in the world trying to find ways to not be alone,” he said. As he timed out the different phases in the editing room, Haigh took the chance that holding out for the payoff was the right thing to do. “I was a little nervous,” he said.

Haigh knows that his films “are not for everybody,” he said. “It would be insane to pretend that they’re commercial. Certain people like the way I make films and others do not. I’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s no other way I can make films. If I tried to do it in a different way, it would never work. I have to stop worrying too much.”

For his next logistical challenge, Haigh moves from horses to whales and icebergs as he returns to TV (he was showrunner on HBO’s “Looking”) to shoot a five-part limited TV series on Canada’s Baffin Island for See-Saw Films and the BBC. “The North Water” based on an 1850s whaling mission to the Arctic, is “about men on a boat going into an existential crisis, heading to the Arctic and stranded on the ice,” he said.

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‘Borg vs McEnroe’ Flounders at Indie Box Office While ‘The Rider’ Shines

In a quieter weekend for the indie box office, NEON’s “Borg vs. McEnroe,” Janus Metz Pedersen’s film about the tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe had a disappointing start, making only $50,135 for a per screen average of just $1,045. The film starring Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as the famed duo was released on 46 screens and has an 82 percent RT score.

On the flip side, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Rider” posted the top per screen average from its three-screen release. Directed by Chloe Zhao, the film made $45,268 for a PSA of $15,089.

Also Read: ‘Rampage’ Stomps Past ‘A Quiet Place’ for $34.5 Million Box Office Win

“The Rider” stars Brady Jandreau as a Lakota rodeo rider who hoped that his skills on a horse would lead him out of poverty on the reservation he lives on, but must come to a personal reckoning after serious head trauma forces him to end his rodeo career. The film has received critical acclaim with a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

Also disappointing was the indie animation film “Sgt. Stubby,” which tells the true story of the titular Boston Terrier who became a hero during World War I for finding wounded soldiers in No Man’s Land, becoming the first dog to be promoted to Sergeant in the U.S. Army. While it had a 90 percent RT score, it only made $1.1 million from 1,633.

Also Read: ‘The Rider’ Film Review: Lyrical Tale of Injured Rodeo Star Heralds a Major Talent

Finally, there’s Bleecker Street’s “Beirut,” a thriller starring Jon Hamm as a former U.S. diplomat who comes out of retirement to save a colleague from the group that killed his family in 1980s Beirut. Also starring Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris, the film made $1.6 million from 755 screens for a PSA of just under $2,200

Among holdovers, IFC’s “The Death of Stalin” added $460,000 from 325 screens in its sixth weekend to bring its total to $6.2 million. Amazon’s “You Were Never Really Here” expanded to 51 screens in its second weekend for $310,000 to bring its total to $497,000.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Rampage’ Stomps Past ‘A Quiet Place’ for $34.5 Million Box Office Win

5 Reasons ‘A Quiet Place’ Became Horror’s Latest Box Office Sensation

‘You Were Never Really Here’ Rides Cannes Praise to Big Indie Box Office Start

In a quieter weekend for the indie box office, NEON’s “Borg vs. McEnroe,” Janus Metz Pedersen’s film about the tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe had a disappointing start, making only $50,135 for a per screen average of just $1,045. The film starring Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as the famed duo was released on 46 screens and has an 82 percent RT score.

On the flip side, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Rider” posted the top per screen average from its three-screen release. Directed by Chloe Zhao, the film made $45,268 for a PSA of $15,089.

“The Rider” stars Brady Jandreau as a Lakota rodeo rider who hoped that his skills on a horse would lead him out of poverty on the reservation he lives on, but must come to a personal reckoning after serious head trauma forces him to end his rodeo career. The film has received critical acclaim with a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

Also disappointing was the indie animation film “Sgt. Stubby,” which tells the true story of the titular Boston Terrier who became a hero during World War I for finding wounded soldiers in No Man’s Land, becoming the first dog to be promoted to Sergeant in the U.S. Army. While it had a 90 percent RT score, it only made $1.1 million from 1,633.

Finally, there’s Bleecker Street’s “Beirut,” a thriller starring Jon Hamm as a former U.S. diplomat who comes out of retirement to save a colleague from the group that killed his family in 1980s Beirut. Also starring Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris, the film made $1.6 million from 755 screens for a PSA of just under $2,200

Among holdovers, IFC’s “The Death of Stalin” added $460,000 from 325 screens in its sixth weekend to bring its total to $6.2 million. Amazon’s “You Were Never Really Here” expanded to 51 screens in its second weekend for $310,000 to bring its total to $497,000.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Rampage' Stomps Past 'A Quiet Place' for $34.5 Million Box Office Win

5 Reasons 'A Quiet Place' Became Horror's Latest Box Office Sensation

'You Were Never Really Here' Rides Cannes Praise to Big Indie Box Office Start

‘The Rider’ Puts a Female Lens on Toxic Masculinity

In this essay produced as part of the NYFF Critics Academy, Caroline Cao looks at how the story of a Lakota cowboy interrogates the American dream.

This article was originally produced as part of the NYFF Critics Academy. “The Rider” is now playing in limited release.

“You can overcome anything if you work hard enough” is an infectious idea, a brick in the foundation of the American Dream. But that depends on how accessible that dream is in the first place. The titular hero Brady Blackburn of “The Rider” confronts such boundaries as he pines to return to the rodeo pedestal.

Rarely do Native Americans faces command an onscreen presence. While the recent historical romance “A Woman Walks Ahead” empowers Native American voices, it still fits a pattern of regulating Native Americas as supporting players to white-centric narratives. On the other hand, Chloe Zhao’s gentle drama “The Rider” gives the spotlight to the Lakota face of Brady Jandreau, whose real-life head injury inspired the film.

Zhao shot “The Rider” and her first Lakota-centric feature “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which encompasses a dark history of American oppression, namely the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. Zhao commits to the naturalism to illuminate the crass realism of day-to-day lives. Harkening back to “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” where the hero had to choose between homeland loyalty and leaving its dreary borders, Brady is disillusioned in his homeland of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Zhao anchors Brady in a harsh reality where dreams just aren’t feasible, physically, and economically.

Like Valeska Grisebach’s “Western,” “The Rider” places a female lens on the toxic masculinity that plagues society. Wracked with a crippling damage in his brain and hand, Brady wants to resurrect his glory days as the masculine “cowboy up” ideal. But his head injury, in which the wounds are exposed in the chilling opening as Brady plucks off blood-tipped surgical staples, imposes considerable inertia as he lugs himself toward reviving his bronco-riding career.

Zhao complicates our reaction to Brady’s pursuit by unfurling the layers of his predicament from economical to spiritual. On one hand, it respects his free-spirited desire to get back up. In his desperate economic station, we feel for Brady as he takes up a menial job as a price-checker to pay off his father’s gambling debts in a sterilized store, a black-hole nightmare for many in the poverty loop. On the other hand, his physical constraints are incurable. His dream could cost him his life, but the “die trying” adage sounds like a consolation should the dream claim his life.

DP Joshua James Richards shooting "The Rider"

DP Joshua James Richards shooting “The Rider”

In every film, we do not want to believe the naysayers. His father Tim (Tim Jandreau) gruffly commands him, “let go,” judging that his son’s delusions of grandeur could lead to fatality. It’s antagonistic and rubs salt in Brady’s wounds. Brady’s fellow friends believe in him, but they don’t buy that Brady’s condition needs gradual recovery time or is incurable. So much for the ideal of “hard work gets you anywhere.” It can’t cure a head and bodily injury. But Brady can hide his wounds underneath his hat so that from the distance, he looks functional in the eyes of his less informed friends. Thus, expectations are projected onto him. Masculine peers insist he’s a failure if he does not get back in the arena. They don’t see his injury as a grim anchor, but as just another hurdle to jump over.

To counterpoint these “supportive” friends’ unrealistic expectations, Brady turns to another acquaintance for empathy: a tetraplegic Lane Scott (playing himself) who bears a bronco-related damage that Brady cannot hide beneath his cowboy hat. With Lane, Brady finds relief from the pushiness of his friends, and they watch their good ole’ days on crude iPhone videos where they were worshipped superstars before their respective injuries. Unlike Brady’s able-bodied friends, Lane first-hand knows that not everything is hunky-dory with Brady’s quest.

Zhao leaves an understated tragedy in the inconclusiveness to Brady’s predicament. Brady nearly crosses the borders of the rodeo ring for his epic career comeback, but he walks away at peace with his vulnerability for better or worse. Lane feeds Brady some encouragement to not give up on his dreams, but Brady is left to meditate on its open-ended meaning. Can Brady choose to try again if he wishes? Or should Brady redefine the dream to find satisfaction?

We trust Brady can survive. He doesn’t need to indulge in grandiose visions; there is satisfaction in hunkering down. Lane’s encouraging lets Brady be open to other avenues. But we’re not shown happier alternatives for Brady’s post-rodeo existence. Nor is the whole of Brady’s underprivileged society resolved. Who is part of the American Dream? Certainly not those excluded from the prosperity of the American Dream. Sometimes the practicalities of life aren’t obstacles, but realities. Sometimes the forces that question that sparked these dreams in the first place are questionable.

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‘The Rider’ Film Review: Lyrical Tale of Injured Rodeo Star Heralds a Major Talent

Filmmaker Chloe Zhao vaults into a rarefied atmosphere of filmmaking mastery with her stunning second feature, “The Rider,” a neo-Western about rodeo riding, hobbled masculinity and reflective grace that feels unlike anything else out there.

Its compelling singularity no doubt has something to do with its milieu –Native American bronc and bull specialists on the rodeo circuit who hail from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation — but it primarily derives from Zhao’s filmmaking choice to combine a deeply felt story and a risky-but-rewarding vérité approach. The result is at times heart-stoppingly effective, pulling us so close to some of the movie’s key characters that they begin to feel like family.

We meet Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) by way of the formidable stapling in his shaved head, a physical scar that forecasts the psychological journey ahead. A gifted young Lakota horse trainer, Brady had been an up-and-coming saddle bronc star until a horrible rodeo accident put him briefly in a coma, set him up with a metal plate, and incurred a doctor-ordered end to his riding days.

Watch Video: ‘The Rider’: How Brady Jandreau’s Brush With Death Led Him to Hollywood (Exclusive)

At home he endures watching his dad (Tim Jandreau), with whom he often clashes, sell Brady’s beloved horse Gus to pay debts. Brady also gets loving support from his autistic sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) and his rodeo pals. But he’s consumed by uselessness. Brady wants nothing more than to get back to training and riding, because his sense of incompleteness outside his life with horses is starting to feel like the worse injury. It’s a stubbornness doomed to embolden him, but what is he otherwise?

If you noticed that the actors’ last names are the same, it’s because Zhao is essentially telling Brady Jandreau’s story, starring Brady himself. After making her debut feature (“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”) at Pine Ridge, where she had ingratiated herself with the various tribes, Zhao got to know the laconic, horse-whispering Lakota cowboy before his accident, and witnessed his struggles afterward.

When she started putting together a version of Jandreau’s story as a film, Zhao made the decision to have everyone in Brady’s world play themselves. That included fellow professional rider Lane Scott, a rising star confined to a wheelchair after his own terrible accident, and visited onscreen in rehab by Brady. Their touching scenes eschew schmaltz for the more heart-tugging sensation of a lived-in camaraderie readjusted by tragedy.

Also Read: Cannes: ‘The Rider,’ ‘A Ciambra’ Win Top Prizes in Directors’ Fortnight

Directors have used non-professionals since movies began, but what Zhao gets out of her 21-year-old real-life cowboy star — by turns stoically lost, humbled, loving, and defiant — is nothing short of miraculous. Jandreau’s is a true, camera-ready performance, filled with nuance, and it speaks to Zhao’s actor-whispering skills that it burns so brightly at the center of her film. Other movies have utilized non-actors to portray versions of themselves – one immediately thinks of Oscar winners Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor – but they were intended to be elements in a larger, homogenized creation.

“The Rider” is fully Jandreau’s; it’s impossible to imagine it having the same impact without his committed, enveloping presence. He’s as powerful as any macho western protagonist stripped to the core — the gunfighter disarmed or the pioneer made homeless. That he’s Native American, pale-skinned but proud, only deepens the reconfiguring of this country’s myths that’s another undercurrent in “The Rider.”

See Photos: 17 Highest-Grossing Movies Directed by Women, From ‘Mamma Mia!’ to ‘Wonder Woman’

“The Rider” also may be one of the best movies ever made about people and horses as a transcendent relationship. The documentary-infused scenes of Jandreau training and connecting with horses — the wild and ornery, the broken and fearful — are mesmerizing in their fluidity and intimacy, dramatizing a kind of tough love born of tradition and respect. Jandreau’s adoration of these animals is not only pulsating: it allows the horses to be flesh-and-blood co-stars in Brady’s story, not just four-legged accessories.

It’s all gorgeously photographed, too, by Joshua James Richards (“God’s Own Country”), who understands fully the magnetic power of a silhouetted horizon shot, a haunting landscape, or a close-up in a truck. And more importantly, that they all need to be seamlessly strung-together verses in the same evocative frontier poem.

The densely authentic space between neo-realism and documentary where “The Rider” exists is one of the most beautiful and affecting realms I’ve had the pleasure of visiting recently as a moviegoer. Having seen it twice — the first time unaware of its hybrid approach, the second time fully cognizant that I was watching real people in a form of healing re-enactment — the spell, I realized, was the same: a lyrical sense that life is lived and re-lived, acted out but ever retraced, and that to reclaim ourselves after a fall is perhaps what being human is all about. We live in identity-convulsive times, and I can’t think of a movie more attuned to the question “Who am I?” than this one.

Spiritual and earthy, forged in curiosity yet fortified with empathy, “The Rider” is why we go to the cinema, and it affirms Chloe Zhao as one of the most gifted new movie artists of our time.



Related stories from TheWrap:

Hollywood Gender Gap Shocker: Women Directed Just 3 Percent of This Year’s Studio Films (Exclusive)

Film Independent Spirit Awards Gives Out $150,000 in 2018 Filmmaker Grants

‘The Florida Project,’ ‘The Rider’ Nominated for Cinema Eye Honors (Exclusive)

‘Rampage’ Stomps Into Theaters in Need of Big Overseas Launch

Filmmaker Chloe Zhao vaults into a rarefied atmosphere of filmmaking mastery with her stunning second feature, “The Rider,” a neo-Western about rodeo riding, hobbled masculinity and reflective grace that feels unlike anything else out there.

Its compelling singularity no doubt has something to do with its milieu –Native American bronc and bull specialists on the rodeo circuit who hail from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation — but it primarily derives from Zhao’s filmmaking choice to combine a deeply felt story and a risky-but-rewarding vérité approach. The result is at times heart-stoppingly effective, pulling us so close to some of the movie’s key characters that they begin to feel like family.

We meet Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) by way of the formidable stapling in his shaved head, a physical scar that forecasts the psychological journey ahead. A gifted young Lakota horse trainer, Brady had been an up-and-coming saddle bronc star until a horrible rodeo accident put him briefly in a coma, set him up with a metal plate, and incurred a doctor-ordered end to his riding days.

At home he endures watching his dad (Tim Jandreau), with whom he often clashes, sell Brady’s beloved horse Gus to pay debts. Brady also gets loving support from his autistic sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau) and his rodeo pals. But he’s consumed by uselessness. Brady wants nothing more than to get back to training and riding, because his sense of incompleteness outside his life with horses is starting to feel like the worse injury. It’s a stubbornness doomed to embolden him, but what is he otherwise?

If you noticed that the actors’ last names are the same, it’s because Zhao is essentially telling Brady Jandreau’s story, starring Brady himself. After making her debut feature (“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”) at Pine Ridge, where she had ingratiated herself with the various tribes, Zhao got to know the laconic, horse-whispering Lakota cowboy before his accident, and witnessed his struggles afterward.

When she started putting together a version of Jandreau’s story as a film, Zhao made the decision to have everyone in Brady’s world play themselves. That included fellow professional rider Lane Scott, a rising star confined to a wheelchair after his own terrible accident, and visited onscreen in rehab by Brady. Their touching scenes eschew schmaltz for the more heart-tugging sensation of a lived-in camaraderie readjusted by tragedy.

Directors have used non-professionals since movies began, but what Zhao gets out of her 21-year-old real-life cowboy star — by turns stoically lost, humbled, loving, and defiant — is nothing short of miraculous. Jandreau’s is a true, camera-ready performance, filled with nuance, and it speaks to Zhao’s actor-whispering skills that it burns so brightly at the center of her film. Other movies have utilized non-actors to portray versions of themselves – one immediately thinks of Oscar winners Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor – but they were intended to be elements in a larger, homogenized creation.

“The Rider” is fully Jandreau’s; it’s impossible to imagine it having the same impact without his committed, enveloping presence. He’s as powerful as any macho western protagonist stripped to the core — the gunfighter disarmed or the pioneer made homeless. That he’s Native American, pale-skinned but proud, only deepens the reconfiguring of this country’s myths that’s another undercurrent in “The Rider.”

“The Rider” also may be one of the best movies ever made about people and horses as a transcendent relationship. The documentary-infused scenes of Jandreau training and connecting with horses — the wild and ornery, the broken and fearful — are mesmerizing in their fluidity and intimacy, dramatizing a kind of tough love born of tradition and respect. Jandreau’s adoration of these animals is not only pulsating: it allows the horses to be flesh-and-blood co-stars in Brady’s story, not just four-legged accessories.

It’s all gorgeously photographed, too, by Joshua James Richards (“God’s Own Country”), who understands fully the magnetic power of a silhouetted horizon shot, a haunting landscape, or a close-up in a truck. And more importantly, that they all need to be seamlessly strung-together verses in the same evocative frontier poem.

The densely authentic space between neo-realism and documentary where “The Rider” exists is one of the most beautiful and affecting realms I’ve had the pleasure of visiting recently as a moviegoer. Having seen it twice — the first time unaware of its hybrid approach, the second time fully cognizant that I was watching real people in a form of healing re-enactment — the spell, I realized, was the same: a lyrical sense that life is lived and re-lived, acted out but ever retraced, and that to reclaim ourselves after a fall is perhaps what being human is all about. We live in identity-convulsive times, and I can’t think of a movie more attuned to the question “Who am I?” than this one.

Spiritual and earthy, forged in curiosity yet fortified with empathy, “The Rider” is why we go to the cinema, and it affirms Chloe Zhao as one of the most gifted new movie artists of our time.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Hollywood Gender Gap Shocker: Women Directed Just 3 Percent of This Year's Studio Films (Exclusive)

Film Independent Spirit Awards Gives Out $150,000 in 2018 Filmmaker Grants

'The Florida Project,' 'The Rider' Nominated for Cinema Eye Honors (Exclusive)

'Rampage' Stomps Into Theaters in Need of Big Overseas Launch

How This Year’s Oscars Became a Feminist Game Changer (Guest Blog)

Frances McDormand, a week has passed since the Oscars, and I’m still fired up by your speech.

The highlight of attending this year’s ceremony was when you symbolically lowered your much-deserved masculine statue down on the stage, and called on all the nominated women to stand. Your recitation of “inclusion rider” validated a legal concept that needs to be shouted throughout the land.

I was moved to tears and stood up cheering your inspiring gestures from my nosebleed seat at the Dolbe Theatre.

Also Read: The Timely Accessory I’m Wearing to This Year’s Oscars (Guest Blog)

Photo Courtesy of Aviva Kempner

The only thing that would have made me happier if I had been able to give you the gun reform button — “Love Your Children More Than Your Guns” — that I had in tow. My vision was of you wearing this miniature billboard for the world to see. I presented one to Allison Janney while secretly wishing her “West Wing” character was presently working in the White House.

I believe the 2018 Oscars are going to have a lasting influence. The nomination for “Mudbound” cinematographer Rachel Morrison has already challenged me to hire beyond the norm. I employ mostly female staff members and editor, and was now inspired to use a female cinematographer for my L.A. shoot last week. My search was unsuccessful, but I am now committed to hiring a woman DP for future shoots.

Several 2018 nominees have given audiences game changing insights. The most empowering female portraits — Meryl Streep’s female newspaper publisher fighting for the Fourth Estate in “The Post” and McDormand’s grieving mother demanding justice in “Three Billboards” — were most liberating. Thanks Jordan Peele for your “Get Out,” a stirring horror story about race and eye opener to white society. And kudos to Sebastian Lelio for writing and casting Daniela Vega in such a moving trans love story as “A Fantastic Woman.”

Other Hollywood actresses have also led the charge. The expressions of solidarity with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards were so encouraging.

Also Read: Michael B Jordan Accepts Frances McDormand’s Invitation, Will Adopt Inclusion Riders

These thespians’ courageous acts inspired me to come to the Oscar ceremony sporting this accessory about our society’s gun issues, because lawmakers in my Washington, D.C., hometown are not calling for reform. Using words expressed by one of the Parkland student survivors, a D.C. school teacher was my designer.

I finally managed to hand McDormand a button two days after the Oscars when she was introducing an amazing new film, “Rider,” directed by the talented Chloe Zhao. At its reception, I observed how the outspoken actress’ words were already reverberating in Hollywood. I overheard a male producer bragging that he was hiring two female directors for future film projects.

I left L.A. singing, “Is this the start of something wonderful and new,” from the Oscar-winning song from last year’s “La La Land,” “City of Stars.” I told my airport Lfyt driver, an actor of African heritage named Lamarana Bah, that this new Hollywood era should be helpful finding roles.

Also Read: Katie Couric Talks Matt Lauer, Sexual Harassment at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast Austin

I swear I stood taller arriving in my Washington on Women’s International Day. And I did not waste any time employing my expanded height. I rushed to proudly attend a private screening of the most enjoyable “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava Duverney and produced by the tenacity of D.C.-based producer Catherine Hand. It is one of the largest budgeted films ever directed by a woman of color.

I returned late at night to find a newsletter that lauded those contributing to the creation of an embassy statute without mentioning any of the women who had also worked on the art project. I sent off emails criticizing the exclusion, and sure enough those in power agreed to correct the errors.

I feel McDomrand’s message traveling with me as I am working today on a new feminist tale, “Pissed Off,” about how the female senators fought to secure a bathroom for themselves in the Capitol since there had not been women elected to that legislative branch before 1932. Hollywood inspired this story too — the idea came to me listening to a panel last year at The Wrap’s Power Women Breakfast in D.C.

Also Read: 17 Highest-Grossing Movies Directed by Women, From ‘Mamma Mia!’ to ‘Wonder Woman’ (Photos)

I expect that McDormand’s call for action and advancements in 2018 will be reflected at next year’s ceremony. How about a woman hosting the Oscars? Bring back Whoopi!! Expect another nomination for Morrison’s work on “Black Panther,” and numerous nods for diverse and female nominees.

Meanwhile, there is a most pressing matter. To those women in Hollywood who have led the way please join us here in D.C. on March 24 to walk the streets calling for changes in U.S. gun laws. We need your talent and notoriety to demand that legislators finally demonstrate compassion and wisdom to protect our youth.

Frances, we need you here to billboard the message. And if you have misplaced the button I gave you, don’t worry — we are making many more.

Related stories from TheWrap:

The Timely Accessory I’m Wearing to This Year’s Oscars (Guest Blog)

Michael B Jordan Accepts Frances McDormand’s Invitation, Will Adopt Inclusion Riders

Oscars: What Is an ‘Inclusion Rider,’ That Thing Frances McDormand Mentioned in Her Acceptance Speech?

Frances McDormand, a week has passed since the Oscars, and I’m still fired up by your speech.

The highlight of attending this year’s ceremony was when you symbolically lowered your much-deserved masculine statue down on the stage, and called on all the nominated women to stand. Your recitation of “inclusion rider” validated a legal concept that needs to be shouted throughout the land.

I was moved to tears and stood up cheering your inspiring gestures from my nosebleed seat at the Dolbe Theatre.

Photo Courtesy of Aviva Kempner

The only thing that would have made me happier if I had been able to give you the gun reform button — “Love Your Children More Than Your Guns” — that I had in tow. My vision was of you wearing this miniature billboard for the world to see. I presented one to Allison Janney while secretly wishing her “West Wing” character was presently working in the White House.

I believe the 2018 Oscars are going to have a lasting influence. The nomination for “Mudbound” cinematographer Rachel Morrison has already challenged me to hire beyond the norm. I employ mostly female staff members and editor, and was now inspired to use a female cinematographer for my L.A. shoot last week. My search was unsuccessful, but I am now committed to hiring a woman DP for future shoots.

Several 2018 nominees have given audiences game changing insights. The most empowering female portraits — Meryl Streep’s female newspaper publisher fighting for the Fourth Estate in “The Post” and McDormand’s grieving mother demanding justice in “Three Billboards” — were most liberating. Thanks Jordan Peele for your “Get Out,” a stirring horror story about race and eye opener to white society. And kudos to Sebastian Lelio for writing and casting Daniela Vega in such a moving trans love story as “A Fantastic Woman.”

Other Hollywood actresses have also led the charge. The expressions of solidarity with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards were so encouraging.

These thespians’ courageous acts inspired me to come to the Oscar ceremony sporting this accessory about our society’s gun issues, because lawmakers in my Washington, D.C., hometown are not calling for reform. Using words expressed by one of the Parkland student survivors, a D.C. school teacher was my designer.

I finally managed to hand McDormand a button two days after the Oscars when she was introducing an amazing new film, “Rider,” directed by the talented Chloe Zhao. At its reception, I observed how the outspoken actress’ words were already reverberating in Hollywood. I overheard a male producer bragging that he was hiring two female directors for future film projects.

I left L.A. singing, “Is this the start of something wonderful and new,” from the Oscar-winning song from last year’s “La La Land,” “City of Stars.” I told my airport Lfyt driver, an actor of African heritage named Lamarana Bah, that this new Hollywood era should be helpful finding roles.

I swear I stood taller arriving in my Washington on Women’s International Day. And I did not waste any time employing my expanded height. I rushed to proudly attend a private screening of the most enjoyable “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava Duverney and produced by the tenacity of D.C.-based producer Catherine Hand. It is one of the largest budgeted films ever directed by a woman of color.

I returned late at night to find a newsletter that lauded those contributing to the creation of an embassy statute without mentioning any of the women who had also worked on the art project. I sent off emails criticizing the exclusion, and sure enough those in power agreed to correct the errors.

I feel McDomrand’s message traveling with me as I am working today on a new feminist tale, “Pissed Off,” about how the female senators fought to secure a bathroom for themselves in the Capitol since there had not been women elected to that legislative branch before 1932. Hollywood inspired this story too — the idea came to me listening to a panel last year at The Wrap’s Power Women Breakfast in D.C.

I expect that McDormand’s call for action and advancements in 2018 will be reflected at next year’s ceremony. How about a woman hosting the Oscars? Bring back Whoopi!! Expect another nomination for Morrison’s work on “Black Panther,” and numerous nods for diverse and female nominees.

Meanwhile, there is a most pressing matter. To those women in Hollywood who have led the way please join us here in D.C. on March 24 to walk the streets calling for changes in U.S. gun laws. We need your talent and notoriety to demand that legislators finally demonstrate compassion and wisdom to protect our youth.

Frances, we need you here to billboard the message. And if you have misplaced the button I gave you, don’t worry — we are making many more.

Related stories from TheWrap:

The Timely Accessory I'm Wearing to This Year's Oscars (Guest Blog)

Michael B Jordan Accepts Frances McDormand's Invitation, Will Adopt Inclusion Riders

Oscars: What Is an 'Inclusion Rider,' That Thing Frances McDormand Mentioned in Her Acceptance Speech?