Award Series: Running Wild

Sarasota audiences loved the story of a rancher in South Dakota caring for mustangs on 13,000 acres of land. In fact, when all ballots were cast by ticket holders, Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde had won the Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.

SRQ Backlot and WSRQ got the chance to to speak with director Suzanne Mitchell and with soundtrack composer Steve Poltz about the work. Hear our interview and read about the amazing story.

Suzanne Mitchell said it took her 11 years to capture all the footage for Running Wild. It wasn’t just that shooting in a remote locale like South Dakota was crippling in terms of finding electricity and proper equipment. But despite having known film namesake Dayton O. Hyde for a decade before she started shooting, it was a still a feat to make him tell his story on camera.

“I don’t know what was more challenging, to get the horses to run on cue or getting the cowboy to open up to you,” she recalls.

Hyde in his 60s felt suddenly drawn to the cause of saving mustangs in the American west and has devoted his life since to that effort. That required tremendous sacrifices in Hyde’s family life, but that inspired Mitchell to spend as much time as needed to bring this documentary to the screen. “He did it, so I certainly felt I could fulfill me dream,” she said.

Hyde was actually in town briefly before the festival began. Mitchell at one point could be found telling stories to fellow documentarian Barbara Kopple about the cowboy’s wit at the festival. Apparently, Hyde was teasing Mitchell for wearing outfits with horses on them to every screening. “He said the director of Blackfish wasn’t wearing a whale shirt,” Mitchell shared.

But Hyde’s story wasn’t the only fascinating part of the film. Composer Steve Poltz was inspired by the story and the native culture about the part of the West where Running Wild takes place.

“I wrote to the film watching scenes, after seeing dayton and being inspired out there,” Poltz said.

The film obviously won acclaim at this year’s festival, becoming one of the most-talked about films all week. She also had Kopple testifying for the piece, mentioning Running Wild and Mitchell when she accepted her own Director’s Award trophy at the Tribute Luncheon.

But Mitchell felt most excited by the way younger viewers at the festival were taking to the film. As she accepted the Audience Award on Closing Night, she noted the progress at sharing the story of the mustang ranch with school-age children. “This is the story of an 88-year-old cowboy and it was part of the YouthFest programming this year,” Mitchell noted. “I think that’s pretty cool.


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