“Near-death experiences often happen. But I pray to ask for protection and that my horse will be well ‘


Sharmaine Weed from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming tells me about the last time she got off a horse at high speed.

“Thirty minutes before the race, they’re like, ‘Are you running for us? I fell because the things I had were too slippery. And I fell and hit the ground and had to get over that little fall. It’s pretty hard. They say, ‘The ambulance wants to see you. They are coming now. I say, ‘I can’t. I have another race! ‘ I took off, I ran and I took second place in the championship. She laughs. “Near-death experiences often happen. But I pray about it before I go out and ask for protection and ask my horse to be okay.

Weed is a 28 year old Native American bareback horse racer. She is the subject of Pure Grit, a beautiful, moving documentary directed by Irish director Kim Bartley, which debuts at the Galway Film Fleadh this Friday. Bartley’s film (produced by Rachel Lysaght and edited by Paul Mullen) takes us into Weed’s life just after she and girlfriend Savannah Martinez move in with Weed’s mother, sister and niece at Wind’s Reserve River, to help out when her sister is disabled in a horseback accident. As the film progresses (perfectly recorded by Kevin Murphy and Stephen Shannon), we follow Weed and his family as they grapple with the rehabilitation, connection, trauma, grief and euphoria of racing through the spectacular Wyoming landscape.

Irish filmmaker Kim Bartley in Wyoming

Indian relay races date back to the days when the best riders of a tribe were sent long distances as messengers, changing horses along the way. Riders ride bareback, often without helmets. Weed’s grandfather, a WWII veteran named Morning Starr Moses Weed, played a central role in keeping the tradition alive. He passed away a few years ago at the age of 102. His older brother won the world championship at 14. “I was five years old when I first rode a pony,” Weed explains. “My brother said I was crying, ‘I want to ride, I want to ride,’ and he said, ‘You don’t know how to drive, you’re going to fall.’ And he didn’t try to help me or guide me or anything. He let me get on and the horse took off and I fell and started to cry. It just made me want to start over. To this day, she says, “I always race new horses. Some of these horses will never be trained even to get out of the gates … and I’ll get out and run them. I’m a little crazy, a little.


Why does she like it so much? She laughs. “I don’t just like it. I love he. I love him because throughout my life these horses have helped me through all the pain of what was going on in my life. I was trying to escape a situation that I was basically trapped in as a kid. I had no control over anything. But whatever was in front of me, those horses were there.

Bartley first came across an Indian relay race while filming a different project on a different reserve. She was amazed by the sport. “When they get back on a horse with all the bones in their bodies broken, you kind of say to yourself, ‘Are you crazy? ”, Says Bartley. “I’m not good with horses. It was my biggest difficulty throughout this affair. A horse reared up in front of me and I fell to pull away. It is very scary. They are truly wild horses. And Sharmaine is tiny. She’s five feet tall … They’re brave, I’ll tell you.

She first contacted Sharmaine Weed via Facebook. And some time later, with a day’s notice, she showed up at Weed’s door in Wyoming. “It was one of those instinctive things, I just knew there was something to Sharmaine just from our short little text messages back and forth. The night I arrived they knocked on the door at 3 am saying, “Come hunt with us. It was minus 20 or whatever. Then Sharmaine herself was so incredibly open. And I didn’t know anything about his past, I just knew about racing. “

Soundman Colm O'Meara, bareback horse rider Sharmaine Weed and filmmaker Kim Bartley in Wyoming

Soundman Colm O’Meara, bareback horse rider Sharmaine Weed and filmmaker Kim Bartley in Wyoming

Sharmaine Weed, she soon learned, is a remarkable young woman. When she was only 14, she testified in court against someone who had sexually assaulted her for years. “She was 12 when she first reported it,” Bartley says. “She decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore… No one wanted her to speak out. And then she found herself alone in court with no family or friends telling her story when she was 14. And I think that shaped who she is today … She’s incredibly brave.

For Weed, that was the main reason for making the documentary. She wanted more people to hear her story. “I don’t want this to happen to other people,” she says. “It might change a person’s mind to do it to another small child, or maybe a child who is going through this can have some hope that [they’re] not the only one to experience this. Because when they are so young they are so manipulated and trapped … I hope that gives them some hope and that they could find something that they like to do.

Thin line

For Bartley, a film like this is about collaboration with the subject, and it’s all about trust. A veteran of socially conscious documentary making, she is very aware of the fine line between giving someone a voice and potentially exploiting them. “It’s about representing someone in the most honest and truthful way possible,” she says. “I always tell people, ‘If you change your mind about something, or say something and wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat,’ I should never have said that. », You tell me, and that will never see the light of day. I will never disrespect this gift they are giving you in their own story. You can not. It’s too important.

She also thinks the way she shoots her films helps the process. “It’s basically me and my partner [Colm O’Meara] who is sound recorder. It’s just the two of us. Some documentary makers have the camera on all the time … I would spend quite a bit of time getting to know people before that because I want to be very, very sure they understand what it is … time to get to know people and then we film … The fact that we, Colm and I are a couple has a weird impact on how people react to us as well, because it doesn’t sound like a crew. It’s Kim and Colm. So Sharmaine and Savannah have a bit of a fight, and then they turn around and say, “Oh my god, are you fighting like this already?” ” She laughs. “It’s a different dynamic, I guess.”

Weed agrees. “I love Kim … She and Colm.” It wasn’t even like work. They were family. It was fate. “

Savannah Martinez and Sharmaine Weed in Pure Grit.  Photography: Underground films

Savannah Martinez and Sharmaine Weed in Pure Grit. Photography: Underground films

Discrimination and racism lurk at the far corners of Weed’s history. Bartley believes that observational documentaries are potentially tools for change and, at the very least, develop empathy and understanding. “In a documentary, without preaching, you can tell the story and have all those layers unfold, and you can kind of hit people when they least expect it and overturn their preconceptions.”


The family are happy with the movie and are generally, says Weed, “very hard on herself.” Watching him, she said, was “very touching. There are a lot of emotions … And then it’s like you have to watch it again, because there is so much going on.

They have already evolved a lot. Her sister’s health has improved dramatically, she says. “I am very proud of her. I feel like she will inspire a lot of people … The doctors gave her a 50/50 chance that she would be able to talk and learn to walk … But we prayed a lot. There was a big prayer chain that went from Montana to South Carolina. pray for her.

Since the end of the film, Weed herself has had to deal with a bout of depression following bereavement. She made some lifestyle changes. She gave up alcohol. It is well placed. She is currently working as a Covid testing specialist. She has a new car, an Impala. She’s still racing. She never really knew much about Ireland until she met Bartley and she hopes, when pandemic restrictions ease, to visit him. She has heard that we also have a bit of horse riding culture here. “It was crazy when I bought my first horse because it’s called Cry Irish… We didn’t name it. It was called Cry Irish when I bought it.

Bartley is hoping the film will be widely released and would like to eventually show him around reservations and schools with Weed. Weed really likes the idea of ​​being some kind of motivational speaker to help empower young people. She would clearly be good at it. “Although I struggle with large crowds,” she said.

But doesn’t she frequently run in front of a crowd? “I don’t know this crowd. I don’t fear them at all. [In a race] it goes completely silent for me. I fear nothing.

Pure Grit premieres at the Galway Film Fleadh open-air cinema on Friday July 23 at 18 hours. There is a second screening on Sunday July 25 at 4 p.m. at the Pálás cinema. It can also be streamed online. Tickets can be purchased on the Film Fleadh website

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