Montana State University

MSU-linked documentary ‘Unbranded’ wins top awards at two festivals

July 24, 2015

Members of the “Unbranded” team jump for joy after learning the documentary was chosen as the audience choice award at the 2015 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Members of the team include, from left: Will Lake Springstead, Scott Chestnut, Korey Kaczmarek, Ben Masters, Dennis Aig, Paul Quigley, unidentified, Kristyn Birrell and Phillip Baribeau. Nearly all members of the production team are linked to MSU. Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.The ââ¬ÅUnbrandedââ¬Â production team takes home the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival audience award, including Ben Masters, who developed the concept for the film and was featured in it, as well MSU-linked filmmakers (from left):, Scott Chestnut, Paul Quigley, Phillip Baribeau and Will Lake Springstead. Not pictured: Dennis Aig and Korey Kaczmarek. Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

Members of the “Unbranded” team jump for joy after learning the documentary was chosen as the audience choice award at the 2015 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Members of the team include, from left: Will Lake Springstead, Scott Chestnut, Korey Kaczmarek, Ben Masters, Dennis Aig, Paul Quigley, unidentified, Kristyn Birrell and Phillip Baribeau. Nearly all members of the production team are linked to MSU. Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

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A Montana State University-linked documentary about an epic journey of four young cowboys who ride 3,000 miles along the backbone of the Rocky Mountains from the Mexican to the Canadian border on a string of wild mustangs was tapped as the audience favorite at two prominent documentary film festivals.

Unbranded,” directed by MSU film graduate Phillip Baribeau and produced by Dennis Aig, director of the MSU film program, won the audience choice awards at both the 2015 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival and Toronto’s HotDocs festival, which is the largest documentary film festival in the world.

“It is very gratifying and amazingly exciting to see how well the film has been received in its first two festivals,” Aig said. “I think the honors prove that the MSU [film program] offers an education that is both practically and aesthetically powerful.”

The feature-length documentary will open with a national release in September. It will be distributed by Gravitas Ventures, based in Los Angeles. Cindy Mehl, director of the popular documentary “Buck,” about MSU alumni Buck Brannaman, was the executive producer of “Unbranded.” MSU graduate Scott Chestnut edited the film. Kathy Kasic, current member of the MSU School of Film and Photography faculty and a graduate of MSU’s MFA in science and natural history filmmaking program, did much of the Nevada unit work in the film.

“’Unbranded’ unfurls an incredible story of adventure and self-discovery while spotlighting the plight of wild horses in America,” according to the Mountainfilm Festival press release that announced the film was the favorite of pass-holders attending the festival held in May.

“Unbranded” was also the audience favorite as voted on by the 200,500 people attending the HotDocs festival in Toronto in April. More than 2,724 films were submitted to the 11-day festival.

The visually stunning film traces the epic adventure of four young graduates from Texas A&M University, led by Ben Masters, and the string of 16 mustangs that they adopt and train to traverse backcountry stretching from the Mexican desert to the high-country of Glacier National Park. Running 105 minutes, it is an adventure story of the cowboys as they come of age in some of America’s most iconic landscapes. It is also an educational film about the difficulty of managing wild horses in America. MSU ecology professor Bob Garrott is among the scientists and conservation experts featured in the film. The film was the brainchild of Masters, who is a writer and filmmaker living in Houston and Bozeman.

Aig points out that one of the extraordinary aspects of the film is the perilous five-month journey that the film crew, nearly all MSU-related, took along with the cowboys in the perilous backcountry.

“I don’t think Phill (Baribeau) even knew how to ride when he began,” Aig said of Baribeau, who also was co-director of photography for the film. “Yet, the cinematography and visual storytelling is expansive and seamless.”

Texas A&M Press also recently published the book “Unbranded: Four Men and sixteen Mustangs. Three Thousand Miles across the American West,” mainly authored by Masters but containing contributions from all the riders and filmmakers. In addition, the film is now available to pre-order at http://unbrandedthefilm.com/.

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Dennis Aig (406) 994-7588, daig@montana.edu