Shorts on Sundays: Wildcat

Kahlil Joseph's Film Meditates on the Origins of an All-Black Rodeo in Oklahoma

A dreamlike narrative binds cowboy and an angelic specter clad in white in director Kahlil Joseph's exploration of a little-known African-American rodeo subculture. Joseph, who is part of the Los Angeles-based What Matters Most film collective, visited the annual August rodeo in the sparsely populated Oklahoma town of Grayson (previously Wildcat), an event that attracts African-American bull riders, barrel racers and cowgirls from all over the Midwest and southern USA. He set out to celebrate the origins of the rodeo by paying respect to the spirit of Aunt Janet, a member of the family who founded the event, passed away last year and is embodied as the young girl in the film. “Black people are light years more advanced than the ideas and images that circulate would have you believe. The spaces we control and exist are my ground zero for filming, at least so far, and there are opportunities for me to tap into the energy,” says Joseph who has also made films for musicians including Shabazz Palaces and Seu Jorge. “So an all-black town with an all-black rodeo in the American heartland was a kind of vortex or portal through which I could actually show this.” Wildcat is scored by experimental musician Flying Lotus, who has previously collaborated with Joseph on a short to accompany his 2012 album Until the Quiet Comes, which is showing during Sundance London this weekend.

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Conversations (5)

  • DuneeMack
    Oh my, so beautiful my people!
  • Tante V.
    I've watched this over and over, Kahlil this is a master piece , I love it and I thank you for honoring my home town and keeping my darling Janet's memory alive. Je t'aime, I love you. Aunt Veronica
    • Posted By Tante V.
    • May 02, 2013 at 7:36PM
    • Share Comment:
  • biafradenmark
    This is where I grew up!!! This is what I grew up doing! I remember when I went to college and people laughed at me when I talked about growing up rodeoing. People still think I'm lying. Black Cowboys? they'd ask incredulously. I spent so much of my childhood in that arena in my Wranglers. :-) The part where the young lady is walking down the road is the road I grew up on. Our house is 1 mile from that arena! My maiden name is Guillory and there is a Guillory Road in Grayson. My mother still lives on the 80 acres that my grandmother received because she was a Creek Freedman. Nooksie and Janet are my cousins! Rodeoing was all my Daddy lived for. You have no idea what this means to me and the memories and the tears I have cried watching this. As a young girl I hated it. All I wanted was to live in the city and once I got to that city all I wanted was home.
  • Maxclev
    Very Lovely piece...wonderful take and presentation of the material....
  • beauty&brainy
    Breathtakingly beautiful!

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    Terence Nance: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

    A Dynamo Filmmaker Debuts an Animated Examination of Love’s Complexities

    A young man opens his heart to a beautiful woman via an old-fashioned letter in the post in this clip from Terence Nance’s first full-length feature, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, an Official Selection at Sundance 2012. Raised in Dallas, Texas, Brooklyn-based Nance wrote, directed, edited and played the male lead in the film alongside his real-life object of desire, Namik Minter, taking a magnifying glass to the miscommunications and anxieties of relationships through envelope-pushing cinematography interspersed with quirky animation. The result is a swirl of romance and neurosis worthy of Woody Allen. The film grew out of How Would You Feel?, a short made while Nance was still a student at NYU in 2010, and was initially funded by Kickstarter before Jay-Z, Dream Hampton and Wyatt Cenac stepped in as executive producers. “Love comes from physiological reactions that are not necessarily explainable,” says Nance, whose dreamlike visual effects are so visceral that friends who have seen the film project their own stories on to his. “My response is always, ‘Are you me or are you her?’ and I’m always surprised at which the person is. Sometimes, it’s both.”

    An Oversimplification of Her Beauty opens in New York on April 26, and goes nationwide in the US on May 17, 2013.

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    Cowboys of the Rhône Valley

    An Untamed Ride Through France's Region of Bullfights and Broncos

    The weathered faces, wide-brimmed hats and spurs of the gardians of the Camargue star in photographer Michael Hemy’s luminous series. Lying between the two arms of the Rhône, the salt flats of southern France have long been home to these European cowboys who, with their long tridents, herd black cattle through the marshes atop the iconic pale gray horses native to the region. The bulls are used for fighting in the arenas of the Course Camarguaise, and, much like in the American West, the local culture has given rise to a tradition of competitive riding. “You can definitely feel the Catalan influence here,” Hemy says, noting a lineage beyond the ancient Iberian roots of this breed of horse. “It feels almost Romany.” That character is reflected in the customs of the wetlands' primary town, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which hosts an annual Gitan Pilgrimage where Catalan- and French-speaking gypsies gather each May for a festival that dates back to the 16th century. When Hemy, who has shot for Vogue Homme and Louis Vuitton, traveled to the region to join his studio mate, Kathryn Ferguson, on a shoot for her latest film project, he found his camera seduced by these horsemen in the early morning sun. “I was keen to capture that soft, hazy, Terrence Malick light,” he explains.

    What did you find compelling about the Camargue?
    Michael Hemy: I liked the fact that it is such a wilderness, and although it seems untamed and arid like the Argentinian outback it’s also very lush. 

    What was it like to step into the cowboy community for a day?
    MH: They are like a family and are all very close to their animals. There is a sense of the old world, a mythical closeness to nature. I felt a very strong sense of tradition and that they were very proud of that: the embroidery on their shirts that echoes their Catalan heritage, and the fact that they wear the motif of Saintes-Maries––the symbol of the region that features a cross made of tridents, an anchor and a heart––on their saddles. 

    Why horses, and will you photograph them again?
    MH: My intention is to capture cowboys in the backcountry as intimate portraits, and these horses symbolize a point of co-existence between men and their wilderness. Utah is next on my list.

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