“It’s en vogue to be a cowgirl right now”
by Marta Bałaga
05/06/2020 – We talked to Anna Koch and Julia Lemke, the directors of the Krakow title Glitter & Dust, only to find out it’s not their first rodeo.
In their documentary Glitter & Dust, celebrating its international premiere at the 2020 Krakow Film Festival, German directors Anna Koch and Julia Lemke prove that even cowgirls get the blues. But that doesn’t stop them from riding some bulls first.
Cineuropa: How did you find out about these girls? Seeing a nine-year-old on a bull at the beginning of the film is such a powerful image.
Julia Lemke: We found a picture online of a girl sitting on a goat and tying it down. We were both impressed by it because it’s so unusual: seeing a nine- or ten-year-old dominating an animal instead of stroking it or putting a bow on it. Such a violent relationship is not something we see every day. Then, already on the road, we found more goats and more girls. It’s still a small thing in the USA – but it’s a thing.
It’s not an equal-opportunity environment. As noticed by Miss Rodeo America here, there are seven events for men in professional rodeo and only one for women, but they can still compete in all of them.
Anna Koch: The cowboy image has male-associated virtues: strength, courage, decisiveness. Being lonesome by the fire or dominating the wilds of nature. When a girl or a woman tries to claim the same virtues, she is viewed as a sassy tomboy. She is this “wild thing” that you can’t control, and all of a sudden, it becomes sexual. The fact that these girls say that it’s also for them, that they want to participate and make it their own, it’s scary for a lot of people. There are categories they can do, like goat tying or barrel racing, but to choose male-dominated events like bull riding or roping, to claim a piece of that cake, is really an act of rebellion.
Were you surprised by the reaction of their families? You show different approaches, from a father who has done it and knows about all the risks to another who openly admits he wanted a son.
JL: With the man who wanted a boy, his daughter is not doing bull riding. He would never allow that. It’s the classic viewpoint of the “rodeo man”. Most of them don’t want to see girls getting hurt; they want to protect them – or that’s what they tell you. It’s an excuse. But with most of the fathers we met, the girls made them change their mind. They are really supportive now, and proud! They see all the struggles they went through to enter the arena.
It’s empowering, seeing a little cowgirl wearing a belt that says: “Never scared”. How do you get kids to open up, though?
AK: Before, we made a film in East Germany [Win by Fall] about young female wrestlers hoping to become Olympic athletes, and people asked us the same question. We really don’t have a strategy. When we choose our protagonists, we choose them with our gut instinct. We didn’t have much time to spend with the girls – when you come from Germany, time in the USA is precious – so we had to throw everyone in at the deep end. With Ariyana, we had a quick connection – she was raised to be very approachable. With the Native girls, there was a moment of suspicion: “What are these white girls trying to do?” When you are filming kids, they decide when they want to open up, and you have to be ok with it.
Once you take on something that’s just so iconic, this whole cowboy myth, is it easy to play with it? It’s so ingrained in our minds.
JL: It started with that first picture of a girl sitting on a goat. It already seemed so fresh. Then, we just kept on discovering new things, like Native kids who do it, claiming they are the roots of the rodeo, for example. Of course, we played with these classical images, but to me, it always felt new.
Was it the same with the music? You have songs that sound like your typical country music, but it was a German artist behind them!
JL: The point is that rodeo seems so conservative, so old school. But it’s a melting pot of many subcultures! They have queer rodeo, black rodeo, female rodeo, and the same happens in music. The first song we used is from a queer artist called Orville Peck, who is using this cowboy image. Then we found a German artist [Peta Devlin], and she wrote songs for us, stemming from modern, progressive, feminist music. Rodeo is something that a lot of people can relate to, especially in the USA: they take it and give it another meaning. It’s the same with country music.
Now that you’ve left the girls, are things opening up for them, all the way up to PBR [the Professional Bull Riders organisation]?
AK: The doors are opening, yes. There have been articles in Teen Vogue magazine about female bull riders, and it’s en vogue to be a cowgirl right now. It might just be a trend, but it might help these girls to be seen and not be spat on at these events. Of course, we are hoping it’s more than a wave, just crashing and then disappearing. Also because for them, female empowerment is still in its infancy. When they come home from the rodeo, they go into the kitchen and their brothers stay on the couch. For us, it was shocking. “She has been doing the same job, and now she is preparing the food, too?” They are changing things and their own environment, but there is a long way to go.
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