They say that life is more about the journey than the destination. But sometimes, that journey is far longer than expected.
Directed by Sean Cisterna (From the Vine), the new documentary The Long Rider tells the story of Filipe Masetti Leite, a young man with an epic quest. Leaving his adopted home in Calgary, Alberta, Leite decides to ride on horseback to his family home in Brazil. Inspired by Aime Tschiffeley’s 1925 equestrian trek, Leite embarks on a journey that will take him over 25,000 kms across twelve international borders as he attempts to reclaim a piece of himself and his family.
In The Long Rider, Cisterna tells the story of one man’s attempt to step into his own life in a unique and powerful way. Interestingly, he chooses to frame the film in such a way that we already know the ending before the ride begins. By opening with Leite’s final arrival, Rider emphasize the power of one man’s journey as opposed to simply whether or not he accomplishes his goal. In essence, because we know that he survives his trek, what becomes most essential to the viewer are the things that he discovers along the way.
With an almost mythological history behind it, the long rider tradition is one that dates back thousands of years. As such, Leite’s journey connects with cultural narratives that we simply don’t hear about any more. From settlers to warriors, the ‘long rider’ lifestyle feels like the last ghost of a time long ago. (In fact, Leite even points out that, ‘the dog may be man’s best friend but horses helped write history.) In this way, his expedition actually feels as though it claims (and earns) its own corner in the fabled history of humanity.
And what a journey it is.
As Leite ventures out into the wilderness, one can’t help but be riveted by his adventure. Fearing for his life, he navigates around potential drug runners, speeding transport trucks, rough terrain and the elements as he attempts to survive the unknown. (While we know he survives, in the moment, he does not know if he will.) But The Long Rider isn’t just one man’s attempt to take his place in history.
Instead, it’s a story of one man’s desire to discover his own history.
Disconnected from his home and family, Leite’s travels are about self-discovery. Left alone with his thoughts, this experience leaves a mark on his soul that allows him to reflect on the things that matter most to him. He yearns for the community and relationships that have supported him throughout his life. (“Life is meant to be shared,” he points out.) He wrestles with the meaning of ‘home’ and how it has shaped him. With each step forward, Leite increasingly realizes that one of his greatest challenges is to wrestle with himself.
In addition though, Cisterna doesn’t just end his story with Leite’s arrival. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the film lie after the adventure has been completed.
Without giving any spoilers, the question of what happens after he reaches his destination looms large within The Long Rider. Struggling to adjust back into everyday life becomes more difficult than he anticipates. As a result, it becomes increasingly clear that, while his trek across continents may have been completed, his personal journey is just beginning.
With a heart for adventure that speaks to the soul, The Long Rider is a fascinating trip. Although his expedition is unlike any other of this generation, this is not the story of a man attempting to achieve greatness. Instead, it becomes the story of a man attempting to rediscover a piece of himself amidst the great unknown.
The Long Rider is available in Toronto theatres on Friday, June 24th, 2022 and expands on Friday, July 1st, 2022.