The latest instalment in the I Am Los Angeles web series led to an internal discussion here at SOTW on whether we really should feature another episode after Terrance or Making it in America, and in what way the film adds something new or special to the conversation (considering the wide variety of similar portrait docs already in the short film arena). However, with The Bull Rider, director Joris Debeij takes his brand of documentary filmmaking into new spheres and creates a meditative depiction of bull rider Gary Leffew and the the way of life that made him the man he is today. With his latest short, Debeij has crafted a documentary that doesn’t need to rely on contextualization within a larger framework (of the web series) and fully works in it’s own right. At the same time the development of the filmmaker’s artistic voice, through the previous efforts, led to a singular short that through it’s precise direction, reflective qualities and deceptive representation sets it apart from many other short docs that focus on one person and/or niche topic.
In a recent interview about the feature film Everything Will Be Fine, German director Wim Wenders talked about how the use of 3-D cameras for an intimate character drama, which normally isn’t common for such films, allowed him greater opportunity to capture the actors inner life and reveal more about the people in the film. The same could be said about the The Bull Rider‘s images, which while not shot in 3-D, use the high quality of the RED in combination with the thoroughly visualized shots and conscious editing to get a sense of what’s behind the man at the center of the story and the world he inhibits. The use of scarce narration and the film’s sound design only adding to the brooding, contemplative approach – drawing the viewer into the mind and spirit of bull rider Leffew.
The film is also a take on the evolution of the lifestyle represented in classic Hollywood westerns, which in fact inspired the filmmaker to pursue this topic, as he wrote in his directors statement – ” I was fascinated and intrigued by the iconic cowboy characters living out an understated yet dramatic, high-stakes existence against such a spartan, other-worldly backdrop. […] Perhaps out of a desire for life to seem simpler, and less encumbered by the lifestyle inherent to all our modern conveniences, I went looking for the closest thing I could find to that cowboy from the silver screen. This is how I happened upon Gary Leffew, an old-school yet surprisingly gregarious rodeo cowboy with some profound things to share about his philosophy on life and his sport.”
Produced with the financial support of a successful crowdfunding campaign after Debeij participated in a Kickstarter workshop hosted by the artist services of the Sundance Institute, the short eventually premiered on the New York Times website as a part of their curated New York Times Op-Doc series. Joris Debreij is currently working on new documentary projects and keeps evolving his personal filmmaking style with I Am Los Angeles as a sort of ongoing umbrella brand while challenging himself to seek further opportunities outside of LA.