‘Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West’ at Newport Beach Film Festival Reveals the Beauty and Plight of Wild Horses

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“Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West” is an immersive journey into the world of wild horses and illuminates both the profound beauty and desperate plight currently faced by the wild horses in the Western United States.

Filmmaker Ashley Avis (Disney’s “Black Beauty”) and crew went on a multi-year expedition to uncover the truth with the hope of protecting these wild horses before they disappear forever.

According to Avis, the creation of this film was deeply personal on every level.

“In 2017, I was brought aboard to write and direct the modern day reimagining of ‘Black Beauty,’ a classic novel that impacted so much of my childhood and great love of horses. I had no idea that my desire to honor Anna Sewell’s original intentions would next lead to crafting a feature length documentary.”

Avis noted few people know that Anna Sewell wrote “Black Beauty” as an animal welfare plea to raise awareness for the horses of her time in the late 1800s.

“In our story, Beauty is born into the world a wild horse, a purposeful change I made with the hopes of illuminating what wild horses are going through in the Western United States today,” said Avis. “In the creation of ‘Black Beauty,’ it was quite important to me to authentically include real wild horse footage in the movie. To do it, my husband Ed and I cobbled together a small bit of financing ourselves to film for about two weeks in 2018 in remote Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. I was then able to cut this footage, which included the stunning horses of the iconic Onaqui herd outside of Salt Lake City in Utah  as if they were Black Beauty’s wild family. In addition to writing and directing both of these films, I also edited them. The documentary in particular was quite a feat to complete, with four years and over 40TB of footage to find our story.”

Avis and her small team obtained financing bit by bit from people who believed in the mission of the film. Over four years, they shot footage across the vast Western United States: from California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona.

“There were eleven flat tires, and plenty of questionable motel rooms along the way,” recalled Avis. “In the midst of all this, Ed and I started a nonprofit called The Wild Beauty Foundation, and began rescuing horses in need, while doing programs with kids to raise awareness through creativity.”

What is perhaps most markedly special about this journey, said Avis, is that “children around the world have already been impacted, and have begun writing us letters to send to lawmakers on their behalf to protect wild horses. The only way to express what it feels like to hold these handwritten letters in our hands, or to stand amongst a herd of hundreds of wild horses at sunset, is pure joy. As David Thoreau so poetically described, there is a tonic to wildness.”

Avis said she has watched these highly intelligent creatures be decimated by cruel, antiquated helicopter roundups that take them away from their land and incarcerate them in long term government holding facilities, never to gallop again.

“We have risked our lives to bring this project to a global audience, to show both the beauty as well as share the truth about why wild horses are disappearing— all with the goal that our storytelling can help make lasting change,” said Avis.

“Wild Beauty” screens Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. at Triangle 4 theater. Visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com for tickets.


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