Unbranded (2015) is an excellent new documentary on Netflix. I know, you hear documentary and you want to change channels, but this may well be worth the time (106 minutes). Unbranded tells the story of four friends who attempt take sixteen mustangs from the Mexican border all the way to Canada. Clearly, this would be a huge challenge for seasoned cowboys, but these young men are up for the ride. I was a bit jealous as I imagined the trip as one of those events that defines and shapes our lives.
Unbranded stars Ben Masters as the driving force and guide through this amazing journey. He is joined by Johnny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover and Ben Thamer. Together, they will meet the daily obstacles and triumphs that comes from taking these beautiful horses on an incredible journey. They have to train the wild horses, prepare for the ride, and deal with weather, terrain, and unreliable trails and GPS miscues. Along the way, we learn about the problems created by wild horses on public land, unrestrained breeding and the push to control the population of mustangs in America. There are real problems for the mustangs as well as local ranchers and horse activists. Is there any solution, that will make everyone happy? It’s complicated.
Why should you watch Unbranded? This is a gorgeous film with spectacular photography and sound. I was quite impressed by the quality of almost every shot, and many of the panoramic scenes deserved to be framed on my living room walls. Sometimes, I just had to pause the film and enjoy the scenery. Director Phillip Baribeau and his crew did a magnificent job of capturing the beauty of America and the mustangs that run free on the land. Even though this was an intimate and very personal film, he used a good sized crew and had a lot of post-production support to make this a very professional film. Unbranded also received a lot of support from their Kickstart program for funding. It was money well spent.
The film also tells the story of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) adoption program, to provide safe homes for the thousands of horses born each year in the American West. A good documentary is meant to be a great teacher, and Unbranded does not disappoint. It seeks to create a balance between the competing sides of mustang management, allowing the viewer to make their own decision.