Trust Buck

"Hello, I'm Buck," says the man in the large-brimmed hat, brown leather jacket, brown-stitch-trimmed white shirt and red silk tie with horses, completely disarming a guest to the private screening of a documentary film about him on Tuesday night. Buck, the movie, has been circulating the festivals, touted as a crowd pleaser for its depiction of this man and his unusual way with horses. But what gets you when Buck shakes your hand is the intensity of his blue-eyed gaze.

You learn, in the 90 minute version of his story, how hard-learned and necessary for survival was this ability to fix you with his open, extremely present attention and gentle manner, the very technique he utilizes in his handling of horses, teaching them to trust him. As a child star with his brother, Smokie, Buck Brannaman became a professional roper at age 6, but the boys also were the victims of a dark childhood, often beaten severely and inexplicably by their drunken dad, until Buck was placed with the kindly Shirley family. While this Dickensian past contrasts with Buck's success, most of the film focuses on Buck working with horses at the clinics he visits throughout the year, sometimes with his daughter, Reata.

Buck was also instrumental in Robert Redford's movie, The Horse Whisperer. Clips show a young Scarlett Johansson in scenes with his horse. Interviewed in the film, Redford notes what everyone else sees upon first meeting Buck, a man in a cowboy costume that melts away as his humanity emerges. A viewer can actually feel herself becoming a kinder person just watching this film.

Tom and Meredith Brokaw, riders and special friends of Buck, hosted the screening and after party at Rue 57. First-time filmmaker Cindy Meehl came under Buck's spell, as most people do, learning more about their horses. Over a glass of wine, the Connecticut-based artist said she could not have made the film without her team of women, producer Julie Goldman and editor Toby Shimin, to name two attending the premiere.

As for Buck, he just leaned against a Rue 57 post till party's end, taking in the photo requests, happy to share his story and smile. "I would have come to New York more often," he quipped, "If I'd realized how well I blend in."

This post also appears on Gossip Central.