September 07, 2021

'Bitterbrush,' a new film by Emelie Mahdavian

Professor Emelie Mahdavian’s new documentary film Bitterbrush premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado this past weekend. It has been praised in its initial reviews as “picturesque” and “sublime.” “With Bitterbrush, Mahdavian announces herself as a filmmaker with a keen eye for capturing the contradictions and complexities of outsider women’s lives,” writes Kristen Lopez in Indiewire

Bitterbrush follows two women range riders, Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline, as they spend a long summer herding cattle in remote Idaho. The film pays close attention to the deep friendship between the two women. “Understanding the depth of their friendship comes from watching them ride horses or silently enjoy each other’s company,” writes Sheri Lindon in The Hollywood Reporter. The women discuss the anxieties of an uncertain future as well as the pains of the past, their conversations all the while grounded in not only the hard labor they’re performing but the expanse and solitude of the landscape. “Mahdavian and her intrepid collaborators have a sure feel for the sweeping expanse of their story’s Idaho terrain…With their big skies, unobstructed views and rich palettes, the film’s panoramas can look like lovingly rendered paintings,” Lindon observes in her review. In her review for Variety, Tomris Laffly describes Bitterbrush as “John Ford vistas by way of Kelly Reichardt’s lyricism, soulfully underscored by Bach.”

Premiering the same weekend as Jane Campion’s highly anticipated western The Power of the Dog, Bitterbrush enters the conversation amidst a vibrant reinvention of the western genre by women filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, First Cow) and Chloe Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland). But while the western film tradition can loom large, Mahdavian didn’t feel burdened: “I felt as a woman living in the community who loved the land that I had just as much insight as John Wayne,” she said during a Q&A at the festival. Instead of framing the film with the traditional masculinity of her subjects’ world, Mahdavian wanted to carve out a cinematic space for these women’s perspectives and to “feel the world through their eyes.” And as Stephen Saito writes in The Moveable Feast, “riding along with them is a joy.” 

Last modified on September 07, 2021