‘Pure Grit’: A Thrilling Tale Of Extreme Bareback Horse Racing & An Intimate Love Story.

Premiering at the 2021 Newport Beach Film Festival is a film that will ignite your heart and mind. ‘Pure Grit’ is both a thrilling tale of extreme bareback horse racing and an intimate love story, directed by Kim Bartley. Chronicling three years in the life of a young Native American bareback horse racer, her unwavering determination, and the relationships that sustain her.

Sharmaine Weed is a former horse racing champion, determined to ride and win. It’s been a year since she last raced; A year since her sister was paralyzed in a catastrophic accident on the track and Sharmaine quit racing to care for her. In the stunning Wyoming wilderness of the Wind River reservation, Sharmaine and her girlfriend Savannah begin to build a life for themselves. They hope for better. But the atmosphere at home soon deteriorates and the young lovers are forced to leave for the industrial Commerce City, Denver.

The city brings freedom and opportunity, but also distractions and a strain on their fledgling relationship. When racing season starts up, Sharmaine and Savannah hit the road and put it all on the line. With a new horse from her city earnings, Sharmaine sees the potential for a fresh start, but life, like the race track, doesn’t always go according to plan.

The film has been described by critics as “a heartfelt journey about Native resilience and the power of love, tradition, and family” by National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. The Northern Arapaho Business Council underscores the central themes of love and family, adding how it is also a story of how “the most important journey a person will make is into themselves.”

Audiences will get to see a first-hand look into what life is like on a reservation for Indigenous folks, coming face-to-face with Sharmaine’s struggles and triumphs, while also relating to the everyday ups and downs that come with being ambitious and family-oriented.

We had the chance to speak with both Sharmaine Weed and director Kim Bartley about the film, the process of making it, and what they both hope audiences will take from what they see on screen:

Sharmaine Weed (second from left) with her family at the ‘Pure Grit’ premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival, October 24, 2021.

SHARMAINE WEED:

What was it like watching your story on screen for the first time when “Pure Grit” was finished? 

I was emotional through the whole video. Capturing moments with my brother whom I wished was alive to see it. And it was something I needed to watch over and over. There were a lot of things going on. And also I felt it should have been a series because a lot of things were missing out of it that would have made sense to include but our time was limited. Trying to cram 3 years worth of footage in an 1 hour and a half. 

Can you describe the feeling of being on the horse and what it’s like to be on the race track?

It feels like your always at risk and it requires a lot of inner thigh strength to hold and  grasp the horses back. Because you never know what muscles your about to use, due to the whole fact your on an animal with it’s own mind. So many positions can be altered with just by bumping another horse or having to avoid each other all unexpectedly. Before all outside riders became apart of the Indian relays. We had to be able to stop those horses ourselves; which requires a lot of arm strength as well. The moment you hear them announce your race the adrenaline rush hits. Flushing through the body until you get on that horse and it goes away, for me personally.

And I chill calmly so the horse can feel calm with me. He feeds off my energy. Just how everything else works in this lifetime. Then crowd and everything around me becomes silent I can’t hear a thing but listen for the start. Then we are off fast as soon as they blow it! Left with choice of reaction from experiences; according to what takes place on the track. I talk to or cheer on the horses I race…many horses will keep a ear forward and one back. And regardless what place the horse takes I always thank them. It’s one less race you will race with them.

How did you first meet director Kim Bartley and what was it like to work with her?

I’ve always been a open minded person when it comes to meeting people and seeing what purpose they bring. Kim added me from Facebook. And expressed her intentions of filming with a female racer which at the time I tried to tell her to talk to other girls. Rather than just talking to me be sure I had a lot going on but she still insisted it be with me and mentioned she would wait. So I told her I would like to talk to her and she came and we met her and Colm, who does the audio allowing me to speak my voice, while Kim gives the visual side of things in my life. It wasn’t work for them any longer after meeting we kicked it off good! And grew a friendship and even more so grew a family over the period of time knowing each other. 

Sharmaine Weed at the ‘Pure Grit’ premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival, October 24, 2021.

‘Pure Grit’ is about your story as a bareback racer but it’s also about relationships and love. What do you hope audiences will remember most when they watch you with your family and girlfriend Savannah? 

No matter how bad a situation gets between you and your family or your love life. Try your best to end the conversations on good terms respecting each other’s wants. We all have individual purposes and accept everyone has their differences. Your not always going to agree on things but remain open minded. Bite your tongue and don’t say things until after your done being angry. You’ll have less to problems to worry about. 

Life often gets in the way of your ambition and threaten to derails your plans in this film. How do you deal with these setbacks?

When derails like that happen. I remember my grandfather Crawford White Sr.’s words. “When someone is trying to do something good, the bad will always try to get in the way, but don’t let it!” And just take it day to day staying positive and working hard.

For people who aren’t familiar with some of the struggles faced by numerous Native American women, what do you hope they will learn from watching your story? 

Living on a reservation it’s a whole different world. We govern ourselves and have our own laws. Though it’s not only females who face these struggles, it’s also the males who sometimes face similar experiences. Generational trauma along with the high percentage of drugs and alcohol that surface the reservations. Still it continues to affect and it’s even worse now than it’s ever been and because of that, I hope they learn the true history and intention of their government. Because these aren’t things they teach you about in school. 

‘Pure Grit’ director Kim Bartley

KIM BARTLEY:

How did you first learn of Sharmaine’s story and decide to make a film about her?

I found Sharmaine on Facebook after coming across Indian Relay Racing for the first time. I was curious to find out about female racers – as an undefeated champion for many years her name popped up when I started googling and thankfully she responded to my friend request! We spoke on the phone and I knew instinctively her drive to race would make a great documentary- sharmaine was up for meeting so I flew to Wyoming to meet her in person and we never looked back. After meeting in person she started to tell me about her past and she had always wanted to tell that story as she felt it might help others and she’s proud of how well she’s done in life despite all the obstacles.

How long did it take to make the film?

We travelled back and forth from Ireland over 2.5 years so by the time we finished post production the film had been 3 years in the making.

You did a great job interweaving her personal story with the systemic issues faced by so many Indigenous women. Why was it important to include these parts of Sharmaine’s life?

I didn’t know about Sharmaine’s past when I first travelled out to meet her. I was familiar with the MMIW movement and would have worked with many survivors of violence and sexual abuse through my work so when sharmaine told me her story I knew she was right in thinking that her story could help shine some light on issues around sexual violence against Indigenous women. Sharmaine was adamant front the get go that she wanted this part of her story to feature and always hoped it would help others. She’s very keen to become a motivational speaker and role model for other Native women and I really hope the film will help her follow her dreams.

Sharmaine Weed (L) and director Kim Bartley (R) at the ‘Pure Grit’ premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival, October 24, 2021.

What was the process of filming the bareback racing scenes? Was it dangerous?

I’m nervous around horses so that was a challenge and everyone had a laugh! The thing is once I’m behind the camera seeing life through the viewfinder I forget to be nervous. The races are over so fast that I really would have needed multiple cameras to cover them properly but we didn’t have the budget to do that except for two races for which we had help from a great Montana based Camera Op (Korey Kazmarek) and for the rest myself and my partner & sound operator, Colm O’Meara just about managed with me on camera and Colm doing sound as well as grabbing shots of the crowd on a small dslr.

There is so much demand for underrepresented stories of women, and especially BIPOC stories on screen. Can you talk more about the importance of representation in film?

It’s simple- if you can’t see it you can’t be it. In telling her story Sharmaine will both inspire and encourage other young women and indigenous women in particular who may be struggling with some of the same issues Sharmaine has dealt with in her lifetime and maybe they can’t see a way out or feel they’ll never be heard. I also think her attitude is an inspiration to anyone feeling like they want to give up- no matter what, Sharmaine always picks herself up and keeps going. She’s a real inspiration. And for me as a female filmmaker to have been able collaborate in telling her story and be an ally was truly a gift. We need to lift each other up. We also had the blessing of both tribes and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre.

What do you hope audiences will love most about “Pure Grit” and Sharmaine’s story?  

I think it’s a documentary that feels like a feature film, it’s cinematic and grabs you in so many ways that I think it will appeal to all kinds of different people- I think they’ll love the thrill of the races, the relatable ups and downs of the love story, the window into Sharmaine’s beautiful Native American culture and the stunning landscape.


Stay up to date with more news on ‘Pure Grit’, by following both Kim Bartley and Sharmaine Weed on Instagram.

Still image from ‘Pure Grit’. Sharmaine Weed with her girlfriend Savannah.

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