Magnificent ‘Wild Horses” at the Palm Springs ShortFest

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Sometimes that queasy feeling when you say “action” is just the reality of directing your first short film.

Sometimes, as “Wild Horses” director Stephanie Martin found, it’s morning sickness.

The winner of the live action short/15 minutes+ prize at the Palm Springs International ShortFest says she discovered she was pregnant about the same time she started shooting.

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If the film is any indication, Martin will be a fierce mother for young Madison, who beat the film in making her debut.

Starring Mireille Enos (“World War Z,” “The Killing”) and Brooke Shields, the short is a mash-up of narrative style and documentary facts. Martin has an eye for the big screen, one she’s been training for nearly a decade as a cinematographer. And the film’s cultured lens was wielded by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, (“Hugo,” “Django Unchained”). Together, they capture the beautiful animals and the horrorific beasts involved in a Montana roundup.

Enos plays a photographer whose world is divided between taking glamour shots of celebs like Shields that pay the bills and trying to document the destruction of the magnificent creatures she grew up with. Watching as she snaps the horses racing across the flatlands there is such a sense of freedom. The moment soon destroyed as the horses are herded by helicopter into pens, a stop-over on their way to the slaughterhouse.

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One of my fellow jurors, actress Missi Pyle, who lost her own beloved horse last fall, said she it nearly killed her to watch, which didn’t diminish her passion for Martin’s piece. Sydney Netter, the film distributing maven of our voting bloc, was captivated by the director’s blend of fact and fiction.

Meeting Martin after the awards ceremony, I think I was struck most by the spirit of the filmmaker herself. Fierce, funny and passionate about making movies, “Wild Horses” may well drag her out of the cinematography trenches and into something more. Meanwhile, she says the baby is doing fine and she is already at work on her next film.


– Betsy Sharkey


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