Aspen Filmfest: ‘All the Wild Horses’ |

Aspen Filmfest: ‘All the Wild Horses’

Documentary "All the Wild Horses" has its North American premiere Tuesday night at Aspen Filmfest.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘All the Wild Horses’ at Aspen Filmfest

Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen; Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

When: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 8:15 p.m. in Aspen; Saturday, Oct. 7, 5:30 p.m. in Carbondale

How much: $20 ($15 for Aspen Film members)

Tickets: Wheeler box office;

More info: The screening will be followed by a Q-and-A with director Ivo Marloh; Tuesday’s festival also features ‘Zuzana: Music is Life’ at 2:30 p.m., an opening reception at 4:30 p.m., and ‘The Women’s Balcony’ at 5:30 p.m.;

The Mongol Derby is the world’s longest and most grueling horse race. It challenges riders to mount wild, bucking Mongolian horses over 1,000 kilometers of the rugged Mongolian steppe.

It sounds insane because, well, it is. The documentary “All the Wild Horses,” having its North American premiere tnight at Aspen Filmfest, thrusts viewers into the madness in the Mongolian wilds and follows an audacious, rag-tag group of international riders on the bloody and brutal ride.

Along the way atop these very wild horses, racers suffer broken bones and dehydration, they’re chased by wolves and they form intense bonds with their competitors.

“It looks completely crazy,” rider Donal Fahy, a professional jockey from Ireland, says early in the film. “That’s why I wanted to do it. It’s something I never even thought of doing before. It just looks deadly.”

Racers follow GPS along the way, bedding down with nomadic families or at horse stations over eight long days and nights on the course based on Genghis Khan’s postal service system. Riders change horses every 40 kilometers along the way, keeping the horses fresh and healthy. Race organizers and veterinarian staff are extremely cautious about the horses’ health, the film emphasizes.

“The only abuse here is human abuse,” says one race organizer.

The characters in “All the Wild Horses” are a colorful mix of professionals and weekend warriors, some are hard-drinking and –smoking adventure-seekers while others are focused equestrians.

Alongside Fahy — who comes to Mongolia after breaking his back in Ireland — there’s Monde Kanyana, a South African farm worker and “horse whisperer,” Devan Horn, a computer technician from Houston, and Wendy Chambers of Australia, who signed up on a whim. (Also among them is cowboy journalist Will Grant, a former Aspen Daily News intern who wrote about riding the Mongol Derby for Outside Magazine in May 2013.)

Though it’s dangerous for all, some riders take their time and soak in the experience. Others are determined to win at all costs.

“If I mess it up and go home in a sling, I better go home in a body bag,” Horn says in the film. “Because there’s no way I’m going home with a broken wrist.”

Horn’s self-destructive obsession with winning the race makes for some of the most powerful sections of the film.

“When I tell somebody that there’s no place that I’d rather be than just with a horse and a horizon in Mongolia, they think I’m fricking insane,” Horn sayd. “But everybody has something that they love to do and this is what I love to do.”

Director-producer Ivo Marloh rode the Mongol Derby twice to capture the story, working on horseback with a two-person film crew. It made for a grueling filmmaking experience. Both times, after crossing the finish line, Marloh collapsed and had to be administered IV fluids, he recalled recently from London.

A horseman who grew up on a farm and was riding horses before he could pedal a bike, Marloh said he was torn between attempting to compete in the race and trying to make his film.

“It was a real conflict and it was stressful,” he said. “I was riding it and there were times when I felt really competitive but had to rein that in and follow the characters and do my job.”

He sought advice from “Cartel Land” director Mathew Heineman about how to make a film amid such chaos and physical danger.

It was impossible for Marloh to follow everyone in the race — riders are often stretched 100 to 150 miles apart. Instead of getting wrapped up in who is winning and losing, the film examines why people would take on this race and how the camaraderie and deep personal bonds form among them.

“I didn’t want to have some kind of adventure-porn video,” Marloh explained.

The result is a kinetic and enthralling cinematic experience and a captivating portrait of the kinds of people drawn to the toughest sufferfest on horseback.

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