Filmmaker goes along for the ride

July 28, 1996|By SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

When you think about sacrifices made in the name of art, you probably think of painters toiling in tiny garrets, musicians playing for nickels in the rain on the street.

Doubtful you'd think about a filmmaker strapping herself to a bucking bronco that would like nothing better than to crush her skull beneath its pounding hoofs.

"I just figured since I was doing a film on cowgirls, I needed to try it myself," says 23-year-old Amanda Micheli, a horse enthusiast since her childhood outside Boston. "The hardest thing was learning how to land -- I ended up face-first in the dirt most of the time."

Micheli began making the movie -- a documentary titled "Just for the Ride" -- when she was a mere 20 years old -- a junior at Harvard studying theater and film. It is her first and only film so far, and was chosen from more than 600 entries for the PBS Point of View series. (Maryland Public Television aired it July 23 and will rebroadcast it next spring.)

Micheli's journey began as a class assignment, and a vague one at that. "I asked if I could make a road movie -- I had an idea about going to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. They said sure. So I borrowed a camera, got a bunch of film from a friend, and we hit the road in my dad's car. Talk about unplanned."

Three years later, Micheli had edited hundreds of hours of film. Her original idea, to do a piece on the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas, was displaced when she met some unforgettable women -- the best living cowgirls.

"I met Fern Sawyer toward the end of the first trip, when I was really wondering about the direction the film was taking," remembers Micheli. "There she was, in her gold leather suit, carrying the flag in the rodeo. And I thought good, this woman is going to save my ass. I latched onto her like my lifeline. A lot of the other stuff went out the window then."

Sawyer, a flamboyant 76-year-old in spandex who had won every imaginable cowgirl prize, provides some of the film's brightest .. moments.

Driving her Cadillac around her huge ranch, Sawyer tells Micheli, should have had a face lift a long time ago, but I'm not that vain. I was never good lookin' anyway, so I didn't bother about it."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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