In Lee Anne Schmitt's new documentary, The Last Buffalo Hunt, Terry Albrecht guides hunter-tourist expeditions in southeastern Utah's Henry Mountains, which were until 1872 called the "Unknown Mountains." This far edge of the frontier, the last unnamed mountain range in the United States, is where the weathered cowboy assists his clients in shooting the area's few remaining bison. After more than 30 years in the business, Albrecht vows, every season, that this time will be his last.
Riding with Albrecht's outfit, Schmitt and collaborator Lee Lynch revisit the promises, many of them broken, of the mythical West. In long, steady shots, she surveys a barren landscape dotted by gas stations and, in one case, a lonely pair of road signs pointing the way to Paradise and Last Chance. As her camera plainly shows, the Wild West has long since been tamed, evident in a caricature of Buffalo Bill presiding over a casino-resort or cowboys frozen in animatronic effigy at a rodeo trade show. The film's critique of the region's commercialization is most pointed when we see a squealing middle-class woman fail to deliver a kill shot. Although she treats the hunt as if it was an amusement park, she's not the only one. Here, the taxidermied appearance of life substitutes for what was — or, maybe, for what never existed at all.
The Last Buffalo Hunt parses the remains of Western conquest, the boom of expansion contracted into a desiccated, ghostly history. All that's left, the film proposes, are the people themselves: dusty songs and stories of those who, like Albrecht, can't seem to leave.
Schmitt will be present at the screening, which also will feature live musical accompaniment by Jeff Parker. —Genevieve Yue
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THE LAST BUFFALO HUNT | Mon., Feb. 13, 8:30 p.m. | Roy and Edna Disney CALArts Theater | redcat.org