First gentleman Marlon Reis participates in Breck Film Festival panel on wild horses

First gentleman Marlon Reis speaks during a panel at the Breck Film Festival Sunday Sept. 18, 2022. The panel followed the screening of the documentary "Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West," which centers on horse roundups throughout the West.
Elaine Collins/Breck Film

Gov. Jared Polis and first gentleman Marlon Reis visited Breckenridge Sunday, Sept. 18, to attend the world premiere of “Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West” at the Breck Film Festival.

The documentary, centered on roundups of wild horses across the American West, was partially filmed around the collection of the horses of Sand Wash Basin, a region in Moffat County in the northwest corner of Colorado. Just over a year ago, 608 horses had been gathered by the Bureau of Land Management from the basin, leaving just 163 wild horses in the area. 

Reis was a vocal supporter of the wild horses staying on public lands during the roundups, and he said on Sunday that he has had a long-held belief that art can bring forth conversation or reach people in ways that traditional policy or political conversations can’t. 

“I noticed several times in the film the reference to the observers (of the roundups) needing to be corralled, and then the people need to control their emotions,” Reis said. “That stood in stark contrast (to) the detachment that is clearly required of the people carrying out these operations on behalf of the BLM. I’ve said this from Day 1 … since I have been lucky enough to be the first gentleman here in Colorado, to occupy this post: once you commit an act of violence, the next time it’s a little bit easier.”

Reis also commended advocates for the wild horses in the West, who repeatedly contacted the governor’s office during the roundups in Colorado. He said that at the time, it was difficult to gather information about the roundup process from various entities, and it was often due to a lack of communication between parties involved.

“What we’re looking at right now is the development of a state-sponsored nonprofit that would provide a consistent source of state staff and volunteer organization to help the volunteers, because this is the perfect example of a situation in which a federal agency — with the kind of budget that the BLM has — should not be relying purely on volunteers to carry out its mission,” Reis said. “In addition, I think this is just bad governance. As we heard (in the film), the number of wild horses who are losing their freedom (is increasing). We need to really focus on the fact that they have freedom, but they don’t have it afterward.”

Ashley Avis, who directed the film, said that while the documentary is mainly centered around wild horses, ultimately, it’s about protecting the greater wild world on public lands.

“If you go out and you’re with your family and you want to experience the American West, you aren’t likely to want to go out camping and see the grazing livestock or to see dozens of cattle amongst the forest instead of wild horses — instead of other natural, beautiful wildlife,” she said. “So I think everything is at stake. And this year, we’re hitting a tipping point where there might already be more wild horses in holding facilities than free on public land, which is just a travesty.”

Avis said that she hopes audiences take away that advocacy is what is going to keep wild horses on public lands. Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar, who was featured in the film, said that he believes that the bureau should be reformed in order to protect wild horses and other living creatures on public lands. 

“I think we need to turn that paradigm on its head and get the Bureau of Land Management to start managing the public lands for abundant and thriving natural ecosystems for abundant wildlife, and for public recreation and enjoyment,” Molvar said.

“Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West” had its world premiere Sunday, Sept. 18 at the Breck Film Festival. Director Ashley Avis and others spoke with first gentleman Marlon Reis on wild horse advocacy after the screening.
Winterstone Pictures/Courtesy photo

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