A Calgary man sets out to ride to South America on horseback

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 30, 2022

The Long Rider
Opens July 8
3 out of 5

There’s something to be said about straightforward documentaries that take you from point A to B without major distractions (on a map, to boot). The Long Rider is as linear as it gets, albeit with a few bumps on the road and glaring issues that never get addressed.

The film chronicles the life and travels of Filipe Leite, a twenty-something Brazilian-born cowboy living in Calgary. Both homesick, and in awe of long rider Aimé Tschiffely (who in 1925 travelled by horse from Argentina to New York), Leite sets out to go from Alberta to Brazil on horseback. The journey is expected to last over two years.

It comes as no shock that the adventure doesn’t unfold as expected. The two horses Leite takes with him are not enough to complete the trip; crossing borders with animals is a bureaucratic nightmare; and strangers are far more generous than one would expect — if possibly involved in illegal activities.

Director Sean Cisterna cobbled the movie together from over 500 hours of footage collected by Leite. There’s no shortage of drama, given that resources are limited, Leite and his horses must share the road with trucks and semis, and he travels by routes used by the cartels. It gets hairy.

It’s hard not to notice the film glosses over the compromises Leite makes to reach his destination (the journey isn’t as continuous as originally planned). It contributes to the feel-good narrative, but I can’t help but wonder if a no-holds-barred approach would have led the movie to more interesting places. Leite knocks customs officials consistently (let me paraphrase: “they just don’t get my dream, man”). But no reasonable country wants to risk spreading livestock diseases from other countries.

One thing The Long Rider does very well is emotional buildup. Leite is very likeable, and his connection with his horses seems genuine. So we suffer along with every setback. It figures when he gets to Brazil it’s tremendously satisfying. The coda seems rushed, but overall, it’s a pleasant enough experience if you don’t think too deep about it.