SXSW: The Roper Wrangles Audience Approval

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The Roper profiles Kendrick Domingue.
  • Ewan McNichol
  • The Roper profiles Kendrick Domingue.

Some feature films get their start as shorts. And while it didn’t win an award, The Roper—a short subject produced by Seattle-based Lucid—garnered a good amount of attention at the SXSW Film Fest.

Lucid normally makes ads for clients like Nike and BlackBerry; but, with The Roper, filmmakers turned their lens toward Kendrick Domingue, an African-American calf roper from Louisiana. While there are black cowboys in the West and Texas, they’re rare in the deep South. Domingue is a compelling character, with a single-minded determination to get to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas just once in his life—and a gentle patience with the racism he experiences along the way.

“Some of 'em give me a snotty look sometimes,” he says. “But I ain’t worried about it, you know. It’s the older people mostly. Still set in their ways.”

Directors Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol had started out to make a film about zydeco trail horse riders in the South. One rider they met in particular, in Lafayette, La., stood out to them. It was Domingue, who then showed them footage of his roping skills and talked about his dream to get to Vegas. So the pair decided to concentrate their story on him.

When the short was finished, the producers uploaded it to their website, where it is still available as part of their Meet Me Here series. But it gained popularity online, so the producers submitted it to Sundance and SXSW, where it was accepted.

They now hope to turn it into a feature-length documentary, with the working title of Rookie. I say stick with Roper, which is much more illustrative of this story: a sweet portrait of a modest young man who practices obsessively and prays before he rides, “Oh, Lord… just let me rope to the best of my ability. Hopefully I can win a check. If don’t win a check; oh, well. I’ll get 'em next time.”

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