|The Roper filmmakers Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol talk following their intuition after a chance meeting, Kendrick's optimism and focus and the ability to follow their own interests as filmmakers.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
The most extraordinary thing about being an independent documentary filmmaker is being able to choose whom to spend your time with. We are able to follow our own curiosities, who and what compels us, and for as long as we see fit. We meet amazing people and find ourselves in all sorts of circumstances; often times these are people and places we wouldn’t otherwise come by. It’s incredible. And life is about experiences.
Which filmmakers inspired you to get behind the lens?
Werner Herzog (especially his early work), and the Maysles. In addition, we were each inspired early on by photographers like William Eggleston and Walker Evans.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Chronicle of a Summer by Jean Rouch—all the more intriguing considering when it was made. Breaking the Waves by Lars von Trier—incredibly bold filmmaking. Vernon, Florida by Errol Morris—an amazing portrait of a place through its people.
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your film?
Ultimately the film is about having enough hope and courage to follow your dreams. Kendrick is incredibly committed and strong-willed, and we found that really inspiring.
What prompted you to explore Kendrick’s life as a calf roper?
We initially went to Louisiana because we were intrigued by trail riding (some of which you see in the film). On our second day we came across Kendrick, as he was coming home from a roping competition and stopped to say hi to some trail riders. We were immediately taken with him as a person. He’s kind, incredibly driven, and completely guileless—there aren’t that many of these people around. We had to leave town and made the decision to return a few weeks later to follow our hunch on him. We knew within minutes that he has a great story.
What were your impressions of the rodeo community’s response to Kendrick’s ambitions?
A few days into filming we went to a small, nearby rodeo. People asked us if we were filming Kendrick because he’s black; someone hollered “chocolate cowboy”. (Our camera probably added to this.) He was the only African American there. It wasn’t until after that experience that we thought to ask Kendrick about how these attitudes affect him. Fortunately these moments do not define Kendrick. He’s focused on how to use his quickness to overcome the fact that he’s smaller, and how to compete without the benefit of a sponsor. And Kendrick does have friends and support within his local community. His parents are very encouraging, which propels him. He told us recently that he was at a small “backyard” rodeo in Texas and a little boy came up to him squealing “the Roper, the Roper” and asked for his autograph. Of course we all loved that.
Which scenes were the most challenging to film?
The moments of competition were the most challenging to film. They happen so quickly, and in a lot of competitions it’s only one run. Not to mention that you’re inside a ring with massive, fast-moving horses.