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Backstage with EQUUS Film Festival Winnie Award Winners Jen Miller and Sophie Dia Pegrum of Horsefly Films with LA Pomeroy
Award-winning storyteller Jennifer Miller and Bristol, England native, Sophie Dia Pegrum, are the collaborative geniuses behind Horsefly Films of southern California. Their first collaborative documentary about horses led to launching Horsefly Films in 2007 and soon after, the Rare Equine Trust project, spurring them to travel the world exploring diverse cultures, rare equine breeds and unique stories before they disappear forever. Horsefly Film’s 2013 premier, Of Gods and Kings: The Skyros Horse, about an ancient Greek breed on the brink of extinction, was an EQUUS Film Festival official selection and their
Path to Glory: The Rise and Rise of the Polish Arabian Horse won 2013 Best Documentary. Tarpan: Repainting an Ancient Picture, about the genetic revival of an extinct breed after Europe's last wild tarpan ran off a cliff to elude capture in 1879, won the Winnie Award for Best Short Documentary at last year’s EQUUS Film Festival in New York City. EQUUS Film Festival went backstage with Jennifer and Sophie to talk about horses, film, and their efforts to document the world’s rapidly vanishing breeds and cultures.
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EFF: Who or what has served as your inspiration to work in film? Sophie: The BBC’s Natural World films, especially the explorations and intelligence of David Attenborough in Life on Earth. Big epics from directors like David Lean and Stanley Kubrick spoke to my visual sensibilities, but it wasn’t until I met a maverick group of lowbudget filmmakers in Venice, California that I threw myself into the indie film world. Jen: Growing up, I had this intense fascination with film. The magic that surrounds you when the lights go down – immersed in the dark and waiting for the screen to glow forth some wonderful tale – just seemed so filled with possibilities. It still does. EFF: First big career break? Jen: After graduating college with a Biology degree, my soul needed to act on my passion for film and storytelling, so I wrote letters to directors I admired and a few called me in for interviews. I was hired by Robert Zemeckis as he was beginning pre-production on Forrest Gump. It was that ‘foot in the door’ and I was on my way. Sophie: My biggest break was meeting someone who challenged me to write a screenplay in 15 days. After that, anything felt possible. EFF: Favorite piece of your own work? Sophie: Although the film we shot on the Tibetan border (Talking to the Air) was a much bigger logistical challenge – which was a surprise to me – the spiritual attachment to the horse in that film is something I feel deeply about and is most aligned with my own feelings about our equine partners.
Jen: For lots of reasons Path to Glory will always have a special place in my heart. I have a passion for history and grew up hearing the legends of Bask and Naborr coming over in the belly of a ship. Polish Arabian horses were mythic gods. I had posters of them on my walls. So to be in Poland and tell this epic story of courage and survival and triumph, remains incredibly meaningful. EFF: Horse or horse-related topic you’d like to do someday? Jen: I would love to head to the island of Hokkaido, Japan, which is truly an island of horses. There are six or seven extremely rare breeds there, all different, that I would love to explore. Like the Nambu and Dosanko horses of the Samurai and the unique sport of Banei racing. Sophie: I would love to make a film about the Marwari. The breed is so compelling and otherworldly. EFF: What made you choose to participate in EQUUS Film Festival NYC? Sophie: We have long felt there are so many great equine films that have a potentially large audience but are languishing in ill-fitting festivals. (Film festival founder) Lisa Diersen has brought together filmmakers and horse lovers – our ideal creative community! The festival’s mission, to remind us of the ancient horsehuman connection, is completely aligned with what we are doing with the Rare Equine Trust. Jen: This film festival is nothing short of remarkable. It has the foresight to realize that equine speaks to everyone, whether they consider themselves ‘horse people’ or not.
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Seeing these films collectively is transformative. They call to our inner horseman. The festival has brought together so many incredibly talented filmmakers it’s truly an honor to be among them. EFF: What lasting impact do you hope your work can have on our horse world? Jen: That people begin to see the absolute truth to the fact that the history of man is the history of the horse. I want horses to get the recognition they deserve from humankind— as our partner, willing and otherwise— throughout our history. Sophie: Horses have entrusted us with their spiritual and physical power and as humans we
have built our civilizations upon their backs. I often wonder why horses agreed to join us in what has often been a tragic journey for them. I hope our films continue to remind us of the remarkable nature of this partnership so we remember the incredible debt that we owe them. Talking to the Air screens at the EQUUS Film Festival, for tickets and schedules see EquusFilmFestival.net. Find Horsefly Films archives at horseflyfilms.com.