The Long Rider
(Canada, 96 min.)
Dir. Sean Cisterna
Filipe Leite recounts an incredible journey in The Long Rider. This upbeat personal doc follows the Brazilian-Canadian on an epic trek from Calgary, Alberta to São Paulo, Brazil. His plan is a daunting task to return to his birthplace while fulfilling a dream. Leite wants to make his journey home entirely on horseback. It’s an epic adventure over 10,000 km in the making. As The Long Rider treks through a dozen countries with the idealistic adventurer, it inspires an uplifting, if self-congratulatory, consideration of what it means to feel at home.
Leite’s journey draws inspiration from fellow adventurer Aimé Tschiffely, who rode from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York City in 1925. While Leite’s own trek might stimulate a pull for the nomadic lifestyle from inclined viewers, audiences might want to note his bumps along the way. The Long Rider observes as Leite embarks on a dangerous, albeit admirably ambitious, quest with little plan. The first sign that such a big journey should inspire such equally grand preparation comes early. On his first day, Leite finds himself trotting through rural Alberta in the sweltering summer heat. Feeling thirsty, he realizes that he didn’t pack any water. It’s a bit of an “oops!” that foreshadows much to come.
Inspiration in the Saddle
Directed by Sean Cisterna and featuring striking footage shot by Leite himself, including ample confessional moments, The Long Rider inevitably focuses on the inspirational aspects of Leite’s story. With two books to his name and a personal brand built on the journey, Leite’s nomadic lifestyle illustrates how one can be a citizen of the world by embracing rootlessness. On the other hand, the film often takes Leite’s trek uncritically and could prove dangerous if it inspires others to answer the call of the wild without preparation. Borders offer bureaucratic hurdles, in one case holding Leite up for nearly three months while he tries to get his horses into a new country, seemingly not having researched the protocols for any country beforehand. His horses are injured when he doesn’t know the terrain or keep his eyes on them. Moreover, Leite frequently chalks his good fortune up to divine intervention.
One can be cynical about the film’s perspective, but the rider’s optimism proves infectious. The handsome cinematography captures local flavours throughout the American heartland all the way through Latin America as Leite observes just how big the world is and how diverse the communities range when one trots from one land to another. His outlook, moreover, keenly observes the social factors that range from place to place and takes little for granted. He peppers the journey with tales of his own family’s fragmentation caused by the bureaucracies of immigration.
This character study admirably hitches itself to the cowboy’s heart. The film illustrates the power of positive thinking and of having faith in oneself. The Long Rider doesn’t need to get viewers in the saddle to achieve its aim. Rather, Leite’s journey should inspire a little soul-searching to help find direction home, wherever that may be.
The Long Rider screens at the Canadian Film Festival via Super Channel on March 29 at 9PM and midnight.
Update (June 8): The Long Rider opens in Toronto on June 24 and expands to additional markets in the coming weeks.