Window Initiative 02 / April 2016

Wild Horses and Western Union

There’s been a line of Oscar criticism I haven’t been able to shake this year. Unrelated to the important discussion about dearth of diversity in nominees, it took issue with the kinds of stories movies like Spotlight and Joy bring to the silver screen. ‘Dear Hollywood,’ read the headline in one memorable piece, ‘Stop Nominating Message Films for Oscars.’ What followed was nostalgic plea for the sweeping storylines popular nearly a century ago. To make her point, the author reminded us of Sam Goldwyn’s moviemaking maxim, ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union’. I couldn’t agree less.

The romance and importance of the Golden Age are undeniable. But as someone who works with words in 2016, I choose to create stories that have a purpose, knowing that with modern audiences, a powerful connection to a cause matters. Whether it’s motivated by hyper-connected, values-driven millennials, or because the world feels more fragile than ever, there’s an appetite for the powerful message. Where I work, it’s more insights than floodlights, and we call this the Purposeful Age.

I’ve been on Team Purpose since I was little, when I fell in love with fables and the Norse myths my Danish mom would use to answer questions like, ‘Where does thunder come from?’ (It’s no wonder I never became a doctor – the answer involves a chariot being chased across the sky.) Stories with a message were the ones I remembered.

Fast forward to 2012. You might think it was the horses, the cowboys, or the chance to ditch PowerPoint for seven weeks that pushed me to pack my bags and head to LA to make Wild Horses, a short film about America’s mustangs. But it wasn’t really that. It was the connection to a cause we believed in that got my writing partner and I to put pen to paper, tell an important story and head into the desert that summer.  

With the support of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, and the generosity, talent and time of people we know and many we didn’t, we worked hard and made a movie with a message. Winning the 2014 Malibu Film Festival’s Impact Award for films that encourage people to stand up for what they feel strongly about, is one of our greatest achievements.

Using art and stories to give a voice to a cause matters. It always has. And I have this belief that, if he were around today to see how much work needs to be done on such a range of issues in focus on Oscar night, even Mr. Goldwyn might be inclined to change his mind.

-- Jess Walsh, Producer + Co-Writer, Wild Horses

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