Her exceptional documentary follows two female range riders during a long summer of cattle driving.
In her last documentary about exceptional women in demanding situations, After the Curtain (2015), director Emelie Mahdavian focused on four dancers maneuvering through shifting cultural norms while enduring increasing disfavor during the post-Soviet era in the predominantly Muslim nation of Tajikistan.
And now for something completely different: For Bitterbrush, which is now available on various streaming platforms, Mahdavian has turned her camera on two range riders, Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline, as they spend their last summer herding cattle in a remote corner of Idaho. Totally off the grid with only their dogs as companions, the two long-time friends brave harsh weather and perilous work conditions while pondering their futures.
When Bitterbrush premiered last fall at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival, Variety film critic Tomris Laffly hailed it as “a picturesque documentary that embraces the sweeping tradition of the Western genre. The brawny job comes naturally to the nomadic Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline, two close friends who are seasonal range riders for hire in the remote American West, cowgirling their way from one temporary job to the next, deep through the mountains and prairies of the Idaho terrain. Think of John Ford vistas by way of Kelly Reichardt’s lyricism, soulfully underscored by Bach, and you’ll be roughly in Mahdavian’s vicinity.”
More recently, Martin Tasai of AV Club wrote: “Mahdavian allows you to tag along with two range riders, listen in on intimate conversations, and bask in spectacular and sometimes unforgiving nature as you observe their way of life.” Moline and Patterson “are seasonal workers who peregrinate to different ranches to help round up cattle–about 1,000 head as stipulated in this particular contract. It’s like Nomadland, but demands much higher skill and competence levels. They get excited about their cabin—despite it not having a functional toilet—after a couple of years of living out of a camper. They spread tuna from single-serving packets onto sliced bread flattened during the ride, and wash it down with Pepsi. They warm up corned beef hash in the can on the gas stove. They mend barb wire fences. With the assistance of about a dozen dogs, they herd cows through vast plains, up mountains, into woods, and across highways. After an arduous day, they nurse the doggies’ sore paws. There’s no romanticizing; this is life.”
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Emelie Mahdavian in the C&I Studio.