American Rodeo: A Cowboy Christmas (2013) – Jim Morazzini


His eyes are cold and restless
His wounds have almost healed

The opening lines to Garth brooks song Rodeo, describing a veteran rider getting ready to head to his next event. And just like Garth’s unnamed cowboy, the four men profiled in H.D. Motyl’s documentary American Rodeo: A Cowboy Christmas are focused on their next event and the possibility of fame and fortune at the end of the rainbow.

Despite the title this isn’t a Christmas film, the title refers to the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July when there are so many rodeos and so many chances to make money it’s been dubbed the Cowboy Christmas. The film covers them as they scramble from one event to another trying to keep everything together, avoiding injury to themselves or their horses, holding relationships together while constantly on the road and trying to make money, or at least break even. It’s a look at the reality behind the bright lights and cheering crowds.

I was a little hesitant about reviewing this, I’ve lived several places where rodeos were popular and seen a few but really don’t know a lot about them and thought I might end up confused. But the film does a good job of explaining whats going on and the cowboys frequently talk about how they do what they do, (all four are steer wrestlers), and the rules and technical issues that come up are all explained. The film does a good job of keep even a stranger to the sport from getting lost.

The story follows a standard documentary format mixing footage of it’s subjects competing and traveling with interviews about their lives, backgrounds and careers. And like all such films, some of it is fascinating and some of it is fairly mundane stuff. The men do come from varied backgrounds which makes for good contrast and helps keep it interesting, which can be a problem when dealing with a group of guys who are for the most part, pretty ordinary.

The one real downside to the film is that it was shot in 2009 and as such is now fairly dated and probably has some inaccuracies. There’s also no update to tell us where the guys are now, if any of them still compete or if they ever made it to the nationals for that big payday they all dream of. And that’s a shame, because by the film’s end you’ll find yourself rooting for them.

Whether you look at it as a documentary about a slice of American tradition or a human interest story about men competing against long odds for a big prize American Rodeo: A Cowboy Christmas is worth your time.

The film is available on iTunes here: