Last week, the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival transformed New York City into a mecca for cinephiles and celebrities alike, who flocked to theaters to view this year’s selection of nominated narratives, documentaries, features, and shorts. I was excited to attend a screening of the documentary Fishtail, which chronicles the life of a modern-day cowboy of the American West. Set in the heart of Montana’s picturesque landscape, Fishtail is a poignant film that explores life on a working cattle farm. While the plot emphasized the fading nature of our country’s ranching trade, the visual effects highlighted the raw, natural beauty of the American landscape in a way that is nothing short of impressive. As the movie began to play, the audience was immersed in the daily tasks involved in working on a cattle ranch during calving season and we followed Tylee Abbott—Fishtail’s co-producer and Questroyal Fine Art alum—as he chopped firewood, unloaded bales of hay, and watched the birth of a calf.
Aesthetically, there is a romantic quality to Fishtail that presents the American West as a place where the quiet beauty of the natural landscape reigns supreme, and the gritty narration of Harry Dean Stanton quoting passages by Walt Whitman perfectly complements the panoramic views of the rugged Montana scenery. In a way, the film was bittersweet in its presentation of the Western landscape: the same views that were transformed into icons of our national identity through the works of Hudson River School painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran may soon bear witness to the end of a way of life specific to the American West. The glory is still there, though—Fishtail is a seamless fusion of modern film-making and an appreciation for Western art, melded together in a film that represents the enduring nature of the American spirit.