Directed by: #WillFraser
Written by: #WillFraser
“We have a dominion over the Earth” sounds like it should be a line from the latest superhero-smashfest blockbuster, rather than from a documentary focused on a rancher. But it is a mantra that defines the life of Tri Robinson – the subject of Cowboy & Preacher, and the biblical mandate he believes necessitates an environmental Christianity.
Tri is both a cowboy, and a preacher, living an environmentally sustainable life in Idaho. We meet him through documentarian and director Will Fraser. Will is fascinated by Tri’s belief that environmentalism and Christianity are natural allies rather than opposites – and with an increasing rift between the two that mirrors a polarised American society, his biblical directive for green Christianity seems more radical than ever. In Cowboy & Preacher, Will is guided through Tri’s life, his spiritual experiences and his view on where the planet is heading with a conservational catastrophe seemingly around the corner.
Tri Robinson is a fascinating contradiction of a man, and the perfect subject for a cause as intriguing as environmental Christianity. He is openly conservative and typically masculine. Yet his values and ideals are outright liberal in so many ways, and he is unafraid to demonstrate weakness and compassion for others. Cowboy & Preacher is about building a bridge between 2 principles that have found themselves on competing ends of a political spectrum, with no real reason to be in opposition. Will Fraser’s choice to allow us access to Tri’s life with himself as the host - Theroux-style - is a wise one, and more clearly demonstrates the wisdom in Tri’s life and teachings which the documentary clearly feels is warranted.
The documentary makes no apologies for its pro-religious stance. Will is open about the strength of his own faith as we follow him in his meetings with Tri, but a belief in Christianity is not assumed or necessary for the audience. Some may see the failure to challenge certain Christian assumptions, such as environmentalism being naturally in-line with pro-life beliefs, as a lacking feature. However, these beliefs are never themselves preached to the viewer. In fact, weaknesses and failings of modern Christianity are confronted by the documentary and the subjects never look to withhold discussion or make judgements around these topics. There is an inherent reasonability to the film which impressively balances some of the contentious true-held beliefs of an evangelical farmer, and his rallying call for the compromises necessary if society is to find the common ground needed to avoid environmental disaster.
The documentary is beautifully and affectingly shot. The wide, ranging landscapes of Idaho show the majesty of the land Tri is desperate to protect. Long shots of his readings from the bible, and subsequent interpretations, feel scholarly without becoming a lecture. There are also some scenes that verge into disturbing territory – such as in Tri’s slaughterhouse where he becomes upset over the inescapable need to harvest one of his animals, as well as a graphic scene showing the branding of a bull. Without much elaboration, these scenes give an insightful look into some inconsistencies in the belief system – in which dominion and respect for God’s creation are set aside or manipulated for certain purposes. Intentional or not, these small insights into the complex life of a green pastor give further weight to the documentary.
Cowboy & Preacher is a fascinating and thoughtful examination of more than just one man. It is half-proof, half-plea that a green Christianity can be the future. Whether you believe we live in God’s dominion or not, time spent with Tri Robinson will leave you believing that it is worth protecting.