Growing up in Florida riding horses doesn't seem like the trajectory for a filmmaking career. But for Angelique Midthunder it was. It all began more than a decade ago when she responded to an open casting call looking for a young woman who could ride bareback for the Japanese movie, East Meets West.
Taking that first role changed her life forever—she met her husband, Lakota actor David Midthunder, and went headfirst into working in just about every aspect of the business from acting, casting, stunt work and filmmaking. She has made five short films to date: one narrative, Reservation Warparties and the documentaries Need 4 Speed; America's First Horse: The Spanish Mustang; The Horse is Good; and her most recent, Silent Thunder.
Of all she's produced so far, Silent Thunder is her favorite. As you read on, you'll understand why…
Stanford Addison has every reason in the world to hate horses. Twenty-five years ago, while partying with friends, the truck he was riding in ran straight into a herd of wild horses on the Wind River Reservation he calls home. The truck rolled three times; his spinal cord was severed.
Life as he knew it was gone. Alcohol and depression took over followed by dark days with thoughts of suicide. Eventually, he found his way back through the same creatures that crossed paths with his truck years before, becoming renowned for his gentle and intuitive training methods working with wild horses.
The story of Stanford's inspirational journey caught the attention of filmmaker Angelique Midthunder, herself a passionate horsewoman. Her documentary Silent Thunder is a poetic ode to this man who took personal tragedy and turned it into something positive; particularly for young people on his reservation looking for inspirational role models.
That wasn't, however, what she originally intended her film to be.
"I had read an article about Stanford; a guy who's a quadriplegic and a horse trainer, and to me that was in itself fascinating," says Midthunder. "I just went to film him to capture his horse training technique and it turned out to be much different. The story that emerged is not just his story, but an inspirational story anyone can relate to on any level."
Silent Thunder looks, feels and sounds like a narrative film. Johnny Guerrero's original score and the visuals of the horses riding free contrasted with this unadorned man confined to a wheelchair do more than hold your attention for 27 minutes. It grabs your emotional core, like the best drama. Only this one isn't fiction, which makes the impact even more compelling.
"In Silent Thunder what I tried to do was make a documentary film that felt like a narrative; basically a slice-of-life story," she explains. Unlike most documentaries, however, Midthunder used no narrator. She allows him, the high country, the horses, and those whose lives he touches do the talking. "Stanford telling his own journey, to me, and the real-life experience of what he went through is way more powerful than a made-up story."
"His young manhood was a lot different than his mature manhood," notes journalist Lisa Jones in the film. "…He's made this life that's so enlivening and so helpful to so many people."
The story flows as peacefully and unfettered as the star subjects. For such a heart wrenching story, there's nary a second of angst. The horses don't buck or try to break free. Stanford never raises his voice in anger; and not one person interviewed—his mother, the local sheriff, the social worker, his adopted teenage son—none of them expresses pity. Far from it.
"The way he makes horses feel comfortable and eliminates their fear is the same way he is with young people," social worker Allison Sage, Jr. says. Cowboy poet Vernon Pitt concurs, noting that the amazing thing about Stanford's training methods is how he enables the animals to keep their spirit.
The amazing thing about Stanford Addison is that he did the same.
In Silent Thunder, Angelique Midthunder captures that spirit without being maudlin. She doesn't need to. True, the film will leave a lump in your throat; but it's a gentle, authentic response. Much like the gentle, authentic man training wild horses in Wind River.
Angelique Midthunder currently is in pre-production of her next two documentaries: one a biography of the classic rock guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and the other on Spanish colonial horses. You can find out more about her projects by visiting her official website: www.midthunder.com
To purchase a DVD of Silent Thunder, go to: www.visionmaker.org
Photos © 2005 Teresa Neptune