Submitted by the Williams Lake Film Club
Special to the Tribune
The Williams Lake Film Club is excited to begin the fall season with a special screening of Pure Grit on Sept. 8th, a documentary centred on the life of champion Shoshone bareback horse racer, Sharmaine Weed, and her family. Filmed by award winning documentarian, Kim Bartley, on the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, USA, the film is both a thrilling adventure, full of a nerve gripping horse race footage, and an intimate portrayal of personal, familial and societal struggle. The film also encapsulates the thrill of young love, and Sharmaine’s fledgling relationship with girlfriend Savannah Martinez. Bartley spent three years filming with her subjects, and the narrative balances many adverse situations and hardships encountered by Sharmaine, including childhood sexual abuse, with her joys, triumphs, hopes and achievements. We are thrilled to be able to share exclusive interviews with both Sharmaine Weed and filmmaker Kim Bartley here.
All net proceeds from this screening will be donated to the Williams Lake Pride Society. The screening takes place on Thursday at the Paradise Cinemas. Tickets are $10 and available for pre-purchase at the Open Book now. Tickets can also be purchased in the cinema lobby before the show. Doors open at 6:30pm, and the show begins at 7pm.
Our interview with Sharmaine Weed, the champion Shoshone bareback horse racer from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, USA, and the lead subject of Pure Grit.
Williams Lake Film Club: What were some of the roadblocks you faced in making this film?
Sharmaine: Some of the roadblocks in the film were when we had to find a place where to end the film. And this was difficult because there are so many more wonderful things to happen in our lives yet. Like for instance after completing the film I became a World Champion Maiden Racer. And it had the crowd on their toes as I sat in 4th place clear until the third corner on the track. But the horse named “Looking at the sky” kicked in gear for me and took first by a nose. What a beautiful heart I witnessed. Right before I raced he went straight backwards with me, landed on me and I got back on and I didn’t let anything stop me. I won that qualifying race and the championship that next day on the same horse. Things like that I know would have made the best finish for the documentary. You can YouTube my first and last name to see it though.
[Note: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4jFmW4NlPY – truly an amazing finish]
Williams Lake Film Club: How did you meet Kim Bartley– how/why did you and your family chose to trust her with your life stories?
Sharmaine: Kim was in the United States at the time filming the North Dakota Pipeline protests. When she witnessed some bareback horse racing taking place. She found it interesting how we shared some horse culture with the Irish people. And she did some researching on Facebook and she came across my profile; that’s when she reached out to me. And I was undefeated on the track during that time. That’s when I told her I was taking a break due to my sister and brothers horse racing accidents. I gave her some names of other horse racers and she spoke with them. But she was interested in our story so she came back saying she would wait until I was ready. She also seen a lot of men do the sport, her idea was to show the females who are involved with it, just the fact it was kind of common for the men to do it. I had told my family and we all agreed to do it. Growing up all my life I always knew my calling. I knew there was a reason I always given my 100% in all I do. It was my time to shine through all my trials and tribulations. I am always thinking of others not just myself, trying to be helpful to others in their lives. Show a good example the way my grandfathers and parents taught me. We all grow together so how some way all aspects of life are teachings of others. So Kim and Colm and the rest of those who helped make it all happen, given me the chance to do so.
Williams Lake Film Club: Can you tell us about some of the things you learned during the three-year process of filming this documentary?
Sharmaine: I learned that I had the potential to become a director, I learned I am in action of leadership more than following. It was more of a clear picture and confirmation of my purpose of life. I learned the power of words how it affects the outcome, the importance that your choice of words and mentality matter. Learning time has collected intelligence from others lives to help get where we are today. It’s interesting that we can capture memories that can last forever with film and camera. I was blessed with so many talents and to be able to do something with it and not waste it. That’s why I say your thoughts the way you talk matters, how you carry yourself matters. Everyone has their own reputation we have many choices to make throughout life. Usually the right way is the hardest, the wrong way is the easiest and sloppiest. All I know is I am trying to do right for myself for others.
Williams Lake Film Club: Was there anything you found surprising about being a subject in a documentary film?
Sharmaine: I can honestly say I didn’t make a big deal out of it and I wasn’t too surprised I was ready and waiting. It seemed like other people were more surprised and wondering why me? But deep down I knew why me because I feel I deserve it along with my family. To be able to help people through their life and realize how others life styles are different but present in this big world. I always give it 100% even behind closed doors when no one is looking. And even though it was Kim’s idea to film about horse racing mainly, there was an entire story behind it.
Williams Lake Film Club: Did the film turn out as you envisioned it would? Can you tell us about your experience of watching Pure Grit for the first time?
Sharmaine: When I first watched Pure Grit I was nervous to see myself on the television. Because I put my insecurities aside and I had to be strong. Remember who I am representing my family, my community, my tribes. And some of the scenes didn’t make the cut, which I understand it would have been super long. I cried watching it the first few times, because to capture some of the hardest times of our life. It was sad and happy tears both because I knew how excited my brother Kashe was about the documentary. And some people were in the film have passed on to the spirit world. The happy tears were from the fact we still are making it through and growing, staying strong, I changed my life. I became sober from my alcoholism going on 2 1/2 years now.
Williams Lake Film Club: What are some of the messages you hope young people will take away from Pure Grit? What kind of audience do you hope will see this film?
Sharmaine: I hope that it gives them some inspiration, that it lets them know they can do anything they put their mind too. All types of audiences young and old should be able to see this. And relate to it because they aren’t alone and I hope they make it out of their bad situations within time. Life is short and we have to enjoy the little bit of it while we can. I hope they learn not to give up and try not to make the same mistakes I did. Because they could be happier further in life achieving great things. Take their passion and run with it because their is a reason they love doing what they love. I wasn’t always a winner, I had my losses, but that’s every reason to fight to stay winning. Practice makes perfect stay consistent and self discipline, eventually you will reach your goal, and stay focused. Don’t be a cheater because in the end the only person your cheating is yourself. I hope they learn to not take anything in life for granted, anything can happen. Think positive through every situation and realize there are reasons why some things don’t work out. Just be patient and wait the truth will show itself.
Williams Lake Film Club: What are your favourite parts of the film? Are there scenes or moments that you are most proud of?
Sharmaine: Well I am proud of the film entirely but some of the scenes I love most; are when they caught the two eagles soaring above me while I was walking on film. Because in our belief eagles are known to be messengers to Creator. They soar the highest and we use their feathers in our culture. I also liked how they captured me winning my first horse race on my new horse “Cry Irish”. And most of all the courage it took for my sister to get back onto a horse after her life-threatening injury. I’m proud of my family for being involved in the documentary as well.
Williams Lake Film Club: What’s new on the horizon for you!?! What has happened in your career since the filming of Pure Grit, and what are your plans for the next coming year?
Sharmaine: Currently I am working two jobs and aside of those two jobs I have been training for a horse race in a couple of weeks. I race at the Blackfoot Idaho State Fair on September 9th. I haven’t raced since I became the World Champion Maiden racer last September 2021. I tried to retire but that didn’t work out. Haha. I also got to experience being an extra on the Prequel of Yellowstone show called 1883. Streaming on Paramount +. It was amazing to be a part of and meet a few movie stars and music stars. I made it on episode 8 and 10. Other than that I am still going strong with my pledge that is for life against alcohol.
Williams Lake Film Club: Can you tell us about the significance of bareback riding in Eastern Shoshone culture, and in your family?
Sharmaine: My grandfather on my mother’s side his name was Moses Morning Starr Weed Sr. I grew up on his ranch. He was 6 years old when he started racing, he said his dad used to go and race in Lander, WY. The last time my grandfather raced was 73 years old. He passed away at 102 in 2015, he was a World War II Veteran a prisoner of Battle of the Bulge. He carried this sport on all of these years and also him and Kenneth Realbird got the World Champion Relay races going in Sheridan Wyoming. And in Cheyenne Pioneer days too, so he carried his racing team with different riders all these years. And it’s been passed on down to generations in our family. Seems like at one point Indian Relay almost died out, there wasn’t as many people involved with it anymore. But I remember my family going and getting the track ready every year and we just kept it going. Me and my older brother Brandon stayed racing and many of the youth growing up were intrigued. It was a good thing because they grew up around it and they became educated and acted on it. Sometimes there weren’t as many racers back then 2 - 3, but at times I had no woman to race. Then the younger girls started getting older and they begin racing against me. As far as Indian Relay came to this day is a blessing. Because one thing my grandpa would always say is don’t let the White man take our sport from us. This is an Indian sport and it shall remain an Indian sport. It makes me proud to see all the spots filled in the races because I know how horse racing saved my life and made difference. It made me feel like I am somebody, that I do have something to live for, back when I felt like I didn’t. It taught me self-discipline and sacrifice time and effort pays off. I hope that it’s making that difference in other Native American lives. There are many more racers nowadays, I want to see it continue to live on. Thankful I was a part of past generations legacy. Because we are only getting older as time goes on and I am going on 18 years of racing. Some of the girls I race these days, I been racing since before they were born. I can say I feel like I accomplished so much in my bareback horse racing career. As for the history part of it we call it the Chief Washakie Messenger Relay. Because back then they had horses for their transportation. That’s how they relayed messages on horseback a lot like the “Pony Express”. The fastest rider would be the one to relay the message. That’s how the Eastern Shoshone people used it back then named after our Chief Washakie. We are just doing our best to hold onto it and teach the younger generations keep it alive.
[Note: Indian Relay is an age old tradition of horsemanship competition amongst Native tribes: four teams race bareback on thoroughbreds around a quarter- mile track, jump off one horse and onto another four times in a thrilling show of fearless athleticism. It’s an extreme sport and one the Sharmaine lives for. While Relay racing is traditionally a male sport, the women compete in Maiden races, racing bareback around the same track at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour without the horse exchange though Sharmaine and other all female teams have recently started competing in all female relay races as well. Mongrel press kit]
Our interview with Kim Bartley, the director and cinematographer of the documentary, Pure Grit.
Williams Lake Film Club: How did you first learn about Sharmaine? How did the making of Pure Grit come about?
Kim: I was filming a documentary series (for our national public service broadcaster) with John
Connors, a well know Irish actor who comes from the Traveller community (Ireland’s only ethnic minority) looking at race and discrimination in the US and parallels with how his community is treated here in Ireland. Through that we ended up filming at Relay Races in Pine Ridge and it blew my mind! I went looking for female racers online just out of curiosity and came across Sharmaine on Facebook- we connected and ended up talking on the phone and that’s where our journey together started.
Williams Lake Film Club: What were some of the hardest choices you made, either artistically, or logistically, or personally, in making this film?
Kim: It was a struggle financially to get this film made as this type of observational documentary is always a tough ask for financiers who want to know where the story begins and ends before you ever start rolling. And travelling back and forth was very expensive so we begged and borrowed and that took a toll but I think if you feel passionate about making a film then you take it in your stride and just keep going. I wish we had been able to include Sharmaine’s big win the summer after we had stopped filming but we had already finished the edit, that’s a big regret for both of us!
Williams Lake Film Club: What kind of audience would be interested in in seeing this film?
Kim: I think Sharmaine’s story is relatable on so many levels- I would love women from indigenous and Native communities to see it and both myself and Sharmaine would love it to be seen in schools and youth groups in indigenous communities across the US and Canada. But I’d also love this film to be seen by a broad audience beyond indigenous communities documentaries of this nature often exist in the niche arthouse circuit, I really hope we break out of that and get to share Sharmaine’s story and her culture with a much wider audience.
Williams Lake Film Club: What other directors or film influenced this film, or your filmmaking in general?
Kim: In general I am a big fan of verité filmmaking, I think like so many directors of my generation Steve James’ Hoop Dreams was a huge influence, and more recently Kartemquin was Oscar nominated for the amazing documentary Minding The Gap. I love documentaries of all kinds and in fact one of my all-time favourites is a Canadian documentary- Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.
Williams Lake Film Club: Did the film turn out as you originally envisioned it?
Kim: I never had a plan other than to film with Sharmaine over a year or two, or until she started competing again. There were many unexpected twists and turns along the way and that’s the nature of this type of documentary, you just go with the flow and see where the story takes you.
Williams Lake Film Club: What are some things about Pure Grit that you love? Is there a scene or moment in the film that you are most proud of?
Kim: I’m so proud of Pure Grit in its entirety, it was a joy to make, if difficult at times. I think
that the experience of seeing Sharmaine’s sister Charity ride again was a very emotional experience for us all. Losing Kâshe was heartbreaking, he had been there hanging around with us since the first day we met Sharmaine and we had a great rapport.
Williams Lake Film Club: Can you tell us about some of the ways you strived to tell this story in the most authentic way possible? And who were some of the other instrumental people behind
the scenes working on the film?
Kim: For me, every film I make is a collaboration with the person or people I am filming with, so
difficult scenes like the court scene which Sharmaine was unsure about filming are discussed and I only film something if everyone is comfortable with the decision. It’s all based on having a trusting and honest relationship. We also met with the tribal council to make sure that they were all ok with us filming on the reservation. We held a premiere for the community when the film was finished and that was a special experience even though covid meant we weren’t able to travel and had to join in from Ireland on Zoom.
We had a very tight team- on the ground it was just myself (filming and directing) and my husband/ sound recordist Colm O’Meara. Back home our producer Rachel Lysaght kept the show on the road and my friend and editor Paul Mullen (who won an award for his work on Pure grit at the Newport Beach FF). We were lucky to be supported from the beginning by Screen Ireland, our state film funding body.
Williams Lake Film Club: How will having made Pure Grit inform your storytelling in future projects?
Kim: I feel privileged to do the job I do- I don’t think of it as a “job”! With every new project I
get to explore and immerse myself in a new world and for me Pure Grit was an
incredible introduction into Sharmaine’s world and the ways of her community. I have
to say I fell in love with Native American culture and I would love to collaborate and
make more films with a North American indigenous theme.
Williams Lake Film Club: Can you tell us about the next project you are working on?
Kim: I am currently working on a documentary about Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier at the heart of the 2004 Oscar winning Hotel Rwanda movie, a man credited with saving the lives of many during the Rwandan genocide and now lingering in a Rwandan prison.