Behind the Chutes: Filmmaker Ann Lukacs On the Art of Storytelling

Ann Lukacs shooting from helicopter
I first met award-winning filmmaker Ann Lukacs in Gunnison, Colorado back in 2004 when I was speaking at a Writing the Rockies conference.  My topic, "Embracing Passion: In Our Stories and In Our Lives," seems to be a guiding motto for Ann, too. Last Tuesday, she was the keynote speaker at Dr. Ellie Greenberg's Feminist luncheon in Denver (Greenberg is the co-author of In Our Fifties: Men and Women Reinventing Their Lives and of A Time of Our Own: In Celebration of Women Over Sixty), where she shared with us her journey as a filmmaker, and her devotion to the story beneath the photos.
A Time Of Our Own

A few of Ann's professional credits as a cinematographer include Pirates of the Caribbean, The Bucket List, Honeysuckle Rose, Blues Brothers, and Coal Minor's Daughter.  Check out the New York Times for a list of movies featuring more of Ann's work behind the camera.
photo by Ann Lukacs

But the movie that seems closest to Ann's heart is the documentary Behind the Chutes. 

"This is a project of the heart which has been inspired by one reason only," Ann says, "the passion of these cowboys..."  In Behind the Chutes, Ann follows several professional bareback riders on the rodeo circuit, meeting their families, learning their stories, becoming their friends.  "What is it about these men that makes them want to devote so much of their life to an eight second ride?" Ann asks.  "What is it about the ride that creates such an addictive passion? And what makes a man, years later, get that sparkle in his eye when he reminisces about his rodeo days? Why do you put it all on the line for eight seconds?" 

Brent Kilmer, Vee Bar co-owner, at
Page's 2009 Literature & Landscape
of the Horse retreat, Wyoming
These were the questions that motivated Ann to perch precariously atop bucking chutes, or lie belly-down in the dirt, propping her camera up with her elbows. "Rodeo is a very misunderstood sport yet it is involves the traditions of our western American heritage--cowboys. Life on the ranch led to competition and a sport evolved using actual skills required in a work situation. It still embodies the uniqueness of a cowboy's life."

Some argue that keeping alive the cowboy legend is perpetuating a myth.  But this photo of a mother cow and calf, with Brent Kilmer of the Vee Bar coiling up his rope after ear-tagging the newborn calf and iodining its umbilical cord, is not about myth, it is about the gritty reality of making a life, and a living, on the land.  Not all rodeo cowboys come from working ranches, but they all have a story. 

Boot-race fundraiser at college rodeo, Guyman, Oklahoma, 2010
Look closely at this photo, taken a year ago at a college rodeo in Oklahoma.  You'll notice a bunch of cowboy boots piled up in the middle of the arena.  And the cowboys are riding in their socks.  This "boot race" Calcutta fundraiser was for a young girl with cancer - first cowboy to dismount, find his boots, pull 'em on, remount, and make it across the finish line, wins, and the spectator who "bought him" wins too. But the real winner is the fund to wish the proceeds will be donated.  The event suddenly has far more meaning because we now know the story behind the photo.

 "The art of storytelling," Ann tells us, "isn't confined to pages in a book.  We have become a media driven society with immediate access to visual content.  But no matter what the format, the basics of any good production remain the story structure and concept."  Ann's newest project, There Are No Milk Runs, a story of WWII B-17 aviators has a fascinating synchronistic aspect in both structure and concept, so stay tuned for updates.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  We seek out metaphor and meaning in our own personal narratives, and in the stories of our families and our communities. It is how we make meaning of our lives.  And thanks to amazing filmmakers like Ann Lukacs, we can see these stories unfold not only on the page, but on the screen - in beautiful, living color.

Note:  Click HERE to read about the regulations governing the use of livestock during PRCA sanctioned professional rodeos.  Click HERE for details on the 2011 Literature & Landscape of the Horse retreat at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Wyoming.

Click HERE to leave a comment or scroll down to read comments and leave a reply.  Thank you.


Marge price said…
You packed a lot into this article. Ann Lukacs' dedication to telling the story accurately while creating a visually stunning film is indeed extraordinary. Those of us who have gotten to know her over the years of her career have seen her dedication to learning more and more about her craft as she delivers on current work. A true professional! I bought the DVD, and it is great.

Marge Price
Marge, yes, Ann's work is stunning. I bought copies of the DVD for both my son and daughter, who were raised on our small family ranch in Wyoming and have a few buckles of their own! Ann's list of credentials is stunning, as well.
Shirley Martin said…
Page, I enjoyed your blog immensly. Ann is a dear friend who I met in 1981. I have worked with her on many occasions. Ann has an exemplary work ethic coupled with her innate creativity.
She exhibits all the attributes of a true friend, loyalty, kindness, honesty, generosity, faithfulness to mention only a few. For 30 years we have shared a great relationship...I would like to think that we could have another 30 years of friendship.
Shirley Martin
Wow, Shirley, Ann is lucky to have such an admiring friend - though I'm not surprised. She's a wonderful artist with a gift for seeing story.
Bill said…
Although I am partial to words my son works with film and has made it his avoacation. Expression on film can be more difficult because the medium is so intricate and unforgiving. With words we try to describe and shape imagination.

I liked the idea of the boot ride, although I have to admit no horse or bull would like the results of me pulling my boots off.

An intriguing piece. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this.
Heidiwriter said…
Fabulous. No, the "cowboy way" is not a myth!
Hi Bill. Glad you enjoyed the piece, and I like your comment about writers trying to "shape the imagination" - that's intriguing when comparing it to filmmakers. Thank you!
You're so right, Heidi - not a myth, it is a way of life for many!

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