Every summer for the past 11 years, Chief Jimmy Lulua tights up the hanes on his draft horses and leads a 1200-mile wagon trip.
He and a group of kids, parents, elders, and other community members, along with their wagons and saddle horses, travel from the community of Xeni Gwet’ in in the interior of British Columbia into the town of Williams Lake for the annual stampede. In 2018, filmmakers Trevor Mack and Asia Youngman joined the trip and created a documentary called In the Valley of Wild Horses.
This gorgeous, 24-minute film is framed by the Canadian Rockies in their full summer glory. There are panoramas of meadows, and twisting images of mountain roads snaking through canyons as the riders and wagons trek by. Children play everywhere in the film, racing around the campgrounds and goofing off in the back of wagons—their joy perfectly captured on film.
It was for the youth, Jimmy Lulua explains, that he and his wife started the pack trip. He wanted to get kids away from electronics and instill some of their first nations’ history and culture. The modern world may no longer need horses and wagons the way it once did, but those two things are often balm for the soul.
“The answer is horses,” one teenager explains as the herd grazes behind him. The trips, he says, have changed him for the better.
In my past four years as a critic, I have been trying to figure out my feelings about the phrase “feel good.” Typically, if it is attached to a book or movie, I get suspicious. “Feel good” usually translates to “sugar coat.” The flaws and complications that would make something interesting are airbrushed over for the sake of positive feelings. The thing that is “feel good” ends up being “flat and forced” instead.
However, In the Valley of Wild Horses did make me feel, well, good. Its unassuming beauty, quiet nature, and strangely photogenic earnestness was both charming and welcome relief in a time where the news cycle is anything but gentle. I would have happily watched 45 more minutes of Jimmy driving his team of drafts or listening to teenagers talk about their horses as the aspens quake like alpine fireflies behind them.
It is also a positive story about a community coming together and kids finding respite in animals and the woods. This is not an uncommon trope. So what makes In the Valley of Wild Horses different?
One part is probably that the film did show its flaws. Some of the young people note the trouble with alcohol that their community faces. There is also a section of the film where Jimmy recounts a horrific wagon accident the year before.
It could also be that the storytelling felt almost effortless. It was as if the viewers were riding along on their own horses or helping serve lunch to the hungry crowd of travelers.
I’m still not sure about either of these points. But I am sure that this film is one to watch. One that will very likely make you feel good, too.