Dec 13, 2023

From ‘Black Beauty’ To ‘Wild Beauty’: Director Ashley Avis’ Equine Activism Comes Full Circle In Her Oscar-Contending Documentary

As Mick Jagger repeatedly declares in a famous 1971 Rolling Stones song, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” And for filmmaker Ashley Avis, she could not be dragged away from chronicling the plight of wild horses in her award-winning documentary Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West.

It’s an issue for which awareness is rapidly growing — because of her documentary, the newly created nonprofit Wild Beauty Foundation, and a nationwide effort to get Congress to pass legislation to save wild horses and burros.

The film graphically illustrates how the beautiful animals are callously rounded up by contractors hired by the Bureau of Land Management to cull them from grazing on federal lands in a host of Western states including Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming.

Avis and her team, including producing partner and husband Edward Winters, her brother Richard Avis, their small camera team and sometimes even her parents worked on the documentary for five years, self-raising $500,000 for its production.

They traversed more than 20,000 miles across 13 states in often remote, mountainous areas to document the story of how wild horses have been made the scapegoat – blamed for environmentally endangering lands that are actually damaged as a result of overgrazing by cattle and sheep.

For Avis, the film has been a labor of love. The seeds were planted as Avis grew up with a deep fondness for horses and the inspiration of equine-themed literature including Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, a classic written in 1877, and Walter Farley’s novel The Black Stallion, first published in 1941.

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