A Texas couple travels to Mongolia in search of holistic treatment for their 5 year old Autistic son in director Michel Orion Scott's documentary The Horse Boy (originally titled Over the Hills and Far Away at its 2009 Sundance Film Festival premiere), a matter-of-fact film with modest theatrical potential that's equal parts road movie and treatment story.
The Horse Boy is a following-in-their-footsteps look at the journey of British journalist Rupert Isaacson, his psychology professor wife Kristin Neff and their young son Rowan, who displays a special bond with horses and is often at peace when riding a horse with his father. Scott makes his directing debut with The Horse Boy and remains true to traditional documentary formula with face-the-camera interviews from autism experts staggered throughout his handheld photography of the 2007 trip and frequent flashbacks to Rowan's severe tantrums at his Austin, Texas home.
After a stressful trip from the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar via horseback and a ramshackle van, The Horse Boy culminates in a meeting between Rowan and his parents with shamans from the Dukha tribe of reindeer herders on Mongolia's Northern border. These shamans, Isaacson believes, are his son's best hope for a more socially integrated life.
Editor Rita K. Sanders skillfully keeps The Horse Boy moving at a fast pace with a focus on the family's adventure. Recording artists Kim Carroll and Lili Haydn complement the story with a beautiful score. Scott also handles cinematography duties but his handheld camerawork fails to capture the majesty of the Mongolian landscape or spark an intimate connection with Isaacson and his family. By journey's end, there is little suspense about the outcome of the trip. By failing to break new ground in the non-fiction genre, Scott misses out on all the dramatic potential Horse Boy has to offer.
The greatest audience response will come from the autism community as well as select filmgoers interested in alternative medicine. Zeitgeist Films, which purchased North American theatrical and home video rights to the film in April, will benefit from the increased awareness of autism spectrum disorders created by the current Fox Searchlight release Adam, a romance featuring a leading man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Publication earlier this year of Isaacson's book, also titled Horse Boy, as well as publicity for The New Trails Center, an equestrian and learning center for autistic children founded by Isaacson, will help build additional awareness for the film but not enough to generate substantial crossover business. Expect Horse Boy to perform far below Zeitgeist's top-earning docs Ballets Russes and Up the Yangtze with a box office similar to a recent Asian-set doc, Unmistaken Child.
The Horse Boy will experience greater success on home video although the largest audience for Isaacson's story will likely come from a planned feature film to be produced by Mark Ordesky and Ileen Maisel. Isaacson is also contracted to write the feature screenplay, which makes The Horse Boy a brand potentially larger than any modest documentary release.
Cast: Rupert Isaacson, Kristin Neff and Rowan Isaacson
Director: Michel Orion Scott
Producers: Rupert Isaacson
Running time: 93 min
Release date: September 11 Texas, September 30 NY