The Last Buffalo Hunt isn’t going to join the echelon of great pieces of non-fiction to ever chronicle the extinction of a culture, nor will it be found in the bargain basement of lesser more amateurish efforts.
Director, Lee Anne Schmitt‘s documentary on Buffalo hunting culture, the effects of western expansion over 100 years, and the demise of the American Cowboy is an interesting, disorganized, and monotonous 76 minutes. Oh man, this film had such great potential and would have been exponentially more effective had it chosen one path and stayed the course instead of extraneously mapping out way more than it actually could cover.
Hanksville, USA – Home of The Buffalo Hunt, where if you have enough money, you too can hire local resident and Cowboy, Hank (no doubt, named after his home town), to shoot your very own endangered free-roaming Buffalo. Sadly, and not surprisingly, hunting of this endangered species is approved by the Hunting and Gaming Commission. But, rather than dig deeper into the reasons as to why government would knowingly allow an endangered species to be hunted, Director, Lee Anne Schmitt, seems more intent on revealing the plight of the Buffalo as a parable to that of old-fashioned Cowboy culture. In order to illustrate the contrast between the two, landscape shots of open country, followed by landscapes of highways, modern steroidal structures, roller-coasters, etc., are all too frequently applied. So frequently, that I’m inclined to label the entire film as overkill, or in this case, roadkill.
My main problem I had with this film was in Schmitt’s round about way of arriving at its central theme; extinction. Tangled storylines of Town history, the plight of the Buffalo, Mormonism (still not sure what significance the town’s religion had to do with it all), and urban sprawl all get roped together in an awkward knot of non-fiction documentary. The one image of a lone Bison causing road congestion while walking down a street pretty much sums up the entire film. This image is just one of many used in order to hammer the point home of an asphyxiating culture suffocating at the hands of modern man.
As short as this film was it could have benefitted greater had the monotone narration disappeared and had it been shortened by about 60 minutes. Computer-like voice aside, which I’m assuming is the director’s way of justifying her supposed non-judgemental stance on her Cowboy subjects, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated the longer this film played out, as I was forced to follow Schmitt’s tangents of a Cowboy tour guide on a Buffalo kill, whose story exists here for no other reason then to splice in the juxtaposing scenery of a cultural demise. As much as Schmitt would love to have me believe that her take on a dying Cowboy culture is a strictly observational and a non-judgemental one, her manipulation in the editing room says otherwise, as she never commits to revealing any of the cowboy’s characteristics in any sort of positive light, turning a potentially humanistic story into a gun loving, racist joke telling, Buffalo slicing rodeo of redneck clichés (yee-hah).
For all those who enjoy nothing more than seeing animals slaughtered and making fun of white racist Americans, you might get something a tad bit more out of The Last Buffalo Hunt than I did.
Showtimes for The Last Buffalo Hunt:
Saturday, April 23, 2011 – 3:30pm (New People)
Tuesday, April 26, 2011 – 6:30pm (New People)
Wednesday, April 27, 2011 – 4:00pm (Kabuki)