Indian Relay review: docs on the spot


"We're horse people... we're always gonna have that in our blood. They're our four legged brother. We've got to pray with them, talk with them. Give them a good blessing. You treat them well, they will treat you well. And when you run that horse round the track, your'e one, your'e not two."

Indian Relay (Charles Dye 2013), to put it simply, is a documentary about a horse race. But in viewing, the audience finds out that it is so much more. Indian Relay is about culture. It is a documentary about pride. It is a documentary about the struggle of maintenance of the old while embracing the new. .

What of the race itself? Taking its teams from reservations streching from Montana to Arizona, the sport begins as a tournament. Each race begins with up to eight bareback riders furiously covering a lap at

full gallop. At the laps end, as the teams "mugger" attempts to slow and control the horse the rider leaps from his spent horse to a fresh one. If the horse breaks and runs away riderless, the team is disqualified. If the rider releases his mount before it is controlled, the team is disqualified. In the frenzy of activity, each team is one mistep away from defeat. In these moments of bedlam all the other riders and there teams are trying to do the same thing. A simmering bedlam of up to thirty two man and twenty-four horses caught in the balance of striving for control followed by an explosive charge. This exchange happens once more during the race. All the while the

riders and their teams eyes are filled with fire. Desperate to work themselves to the top steed: to become the champions.

"Got to keep your eyes on every team. Anything can happen out there."

Indian relay starts out immediately with an image that most people can associate with. It is a rider taping the ankles of his racehorse. As his tape is binding tight, the PA announces that the races will begin soon. Following this, director Charles Dye then shows a horse being bathed in smoke followed by war paint being placed on a horse. Taking the viewer from the known to the unknown. While the

familiar is ever present, it takes a back seat to the foreign. No clues, no explanations, relying on his viewers to make the connections. With a simple fade to black the views are transported to nine months prior to catch the teams in preparation.

"If you aren't nervous, somethings wrong."

For anyone who has ever traveled outside of a city, be it on a state highway or a farmer to market road, the sights are not that unusual. Similar to horse rings located at county fairgrounds the world is somewhat familiar. Faded paint and well worn surroundings match audience members wearing clothes faded and worn from a day's work. Cheer, gasp, and raise high the hopes of their team. Rather than merely following one team, Dye follows three.

"Got to keep your eyes on every team. Anything can happen out there."

Three teams are the focus of this documentary. One team from Montana is led by first time relayer, Myles Murray. Though his amateur status should make this team cautious, they press forward with little abandon. In Idaho, the seasoned grouping of Lance Tissisimit and Alonzo "Punkin" Coby have the skill, talent, and they also have a newly retired racehorse to increase their

chances in the upcoming season. From Crow Agency, Montana is Zack Rock and Kendall Old Horn who combine the wisdom of the old with the fire of the young.

"Young rider. He doesn't know the horses."

To effectively follow the teams, and to tell the stories of the tournament, Dye oversaw a total of eighteen camera crews. In a combination of subtle verite and incredible sharp slow motion photography these crews were able to catch images beautiful to the eye. In editing these striking together, in conjunction

with captivating music, Dye masterfully builds tensions. Tension not only in who will win the races, but who will capture the coveted prize to the plains Indians of Indian relay Champion.

"I thought everybody did it for fun. Now I know everyone does it to win."

The fire in all of the riders eyes is apparent. The practices seem unceasing. Though riders know to expect the unexpected, they, like their horses charge ahead blinded by passion. This leads to some of

the riders being grieviously by the horses. At times in a world where anything can happen, it seems like everything does. The riders however, like the viewers cannot turn back, they can only adapt and hope for the best.

"It's our competitive nature that gets us in the sport. It's our pride that keeps us there."

Indian Relay is available for a limited time from Independent Lens. If you are interested in giving it a look, check out the link at: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/indian-relay/ . Or take a look at the trailer to get a taste of the film.

Indian Relay Trailer:

#IndianRelay #Indianrelayreview

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