The Long Rider Documentary Director Sean Cisterna Interview

The Long Rider is debuting at the Dance With Films Festival tonight and we have a conversation with the director of the film to share with you.

How familiar were you with Filipe’s story before the production?

I was very familiar with Filipe’s story because we went to the same high school. I’m a few years older than Filipe, but our former teacher introduced us in 2005, so I’ve known Filipe for almost 20 years. So when he undertook this journey, I followed it in real time knowing one day it would make for an incredible story if he lived to tell the tale. Fortunately, he lived.

And did you both have the same goal you wanted to achieve out of doing a documentary on his journey?

Not at all. We actually had plans to do a narrative feature film based on his story. I optioned the material and wrote the screenplay, and it was to be an international coproduction between Canada-Mexico-Brazil. Then along comes 2020 and borders were shut down and productions were halted due to the pandemic raging around the world, and an expansive international coproduction wasn’t possible. Then Filipe said, “well, I’ve got all this footage that I shot on my journey – why don’t we do a documentary first?” And since we had nothing else to do during those early days of the pandemic, we started to piece together everything we needed for The Long Rider. Now we can use this documentary as a tool to help greenlight the narrative version. It’s the ultimate proof of concept.

What did you find inspiring about Filipe’s story?

What I found most inspiring about Filipe’s story is how it started vs. how it ended. Filipe left Canada with nothing more than the support of a few friends and loved ones and his two donated horses, but his arrival is nothing short of amazing. Wait until you see how he is greeted at the end of his journey and I dare you not to feel inspired as well.

Anything he insisted you cover and at the same time leave out?

Filipe embarked upon three journeys – Canada to Brazil in 2012, Brazil to Argentina in 2016, and Alaska back to Canada, ending in 2020. It was important for Filipe to tell all three of his journeys over those eight years in one film. There was some initial talk about doing three docs for three journeys, but that didn’t seem feasible. So we struggled with how to give the audience a different experience for each journey, and I think we succeeded based on the response to the film so far. Filipe trusted me to tell the story, and although some parts of the doc make him uncomfortable to the point he has to leave the theatre, he still understands that they’re important pieces to the overall emotional experience for the audience.

How much you could relate to his journey?

Everyone has a dream. Filipe’s dream is to live great adventures on the back of a horse. Mine happen to revolve around being a filmmaker. Yours might be something entirely different. But every dream requires the dreamer to take that first initial step to achieve those dreams, and that’s what I relate to most. There’s no reward without taking initiative and facing great adversity along the way, and in that sense I relate to Filipe’s journey.

Tell me about the editing process. A lot to cut down? A lot to lose?

There was over 500 hours of raw footage captured over those eight years. If you assembled all the footage on an editing timeline and hit “play”, you’d be watching footage for 21 days straight without sleeping. So the challenge to tell an incredibly expansive story filmed in 12 different countries in 90 minutes. My editor Lee Walker is a genius. She took my initial cut and just added so much life to it. She’s a talented artist who really understood the ups and downs of a journey like this. And my composer Edgardo Moreno also deserves credit. When you experience the film, you’ll notice that the musical score goes on its own journey from north to south, incorporating instruments from the countries that Filipe travels through.

And what lovely locations – do you live in the same part of the world?

I live in Canada. It isn’t nearly as warm and tropical as the countries you’ll travel through in The Long Rider, but it’s a pretty great country and I’m lucky to live here.

If one was going to book a vacation there, where would you suggest they visit?

Of all the locations reflected in the film, I think I’d love to visit Costa Rica – there’s a really touching scene where Filipe’s horses get to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time in their lives, and are surrounded by parrots and monkeys on their travels. It’s a nature-lover’s paradise.

See star Filipe Leite arrive at the Chinese Theatres on horseback, escorted by the famous Compton Cowboys, Thursday June 16th 6:30pm PT!

Backed by the City of Los Angeles, Felipe will ride down Hollywood Boulevard ahead of the 7pm premiere screening of his acclaimed film THE LONG RIDER at Dances With Films.

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