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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Don't Forget the Horses
by Betty Jo Tucker

I always look forward to seeing director Mark Bussler’s documentaries. Why? Because he uses a cinematic approach and avoids “talking heads” as much as possible. That’s what made his EXPO – Magic of the White City such a visual treat. With Horses of Gettysburg, Bussler captures the sight and sound of charging horses in battlefield sequences with incredible authenticity. He also manages to emphasize the important relationship existing between horse and rider. And isn’t it about time someone paid tribute to the 72,000 horses and mules that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg?

According to Bussler, whose Gettysburg -- Stories of Valor film received so much critical acclaim, the idea for this new documentary started with questions like how many horses were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg, who fed them, how were they trained, what happened to them during the battle? Michael Kraus and David Neville, who are Civil War historians as well as writers, helped Bussler find answers to these queries while uncovering interesting details about the animals serving in that war.

The effective storytelling style adopted for Horses of Gettysburg involves looking at the battle in chronological order and breaking down the film into individual segments, each with a different story. “At first I thought directing the animals might be a challenge and that we wouldn’t get all the footage needed for editing,” Bussler said. “But I soon learned that well-trained horses take directions very easily from their riders.”

Narrator Ronald F. Maxwell, director of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, lends his easy-on-the-ear voice to the proceedings. He sets the right dignified tone for this tribute to the brave animals and their roles in the Battle of Gettysburg and throughout the Civil War. In one of the DVD bonus features, Maxwell shares his fascinating experiences working with horses in movies. He also tells about his personal filmmaking history in an in-depth, candid interview included as another bonus item.            

Besides Maxwell’s two interviews, the Horses of Gettysburg DVD bonus features include: a 40-minute Making of Horses of Gettysburg documentary; a 15-minute Horses of the White City featurette about the role of horses in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair; a short interview with Doug Sloan, head wrangler for Gettysburg and Gods and Generals; a 45-minute documentary with Eric Campbell, Gettysburg National Military Park Ranger; and trailers for Inecom documentaries.

Horses of Gettysburg is a special edition DVD Box Set in the CIVIL WAR MINUTES® series. I believe this enlightening and entertaining DVD would be a valuable addition to any American History class. But most of all, it’s a must-see for Civil War buffs and anyone who loves horses.      

(Released by Inecom Entertainment Company; not rated by MPAA. For more information, visit the official site.)

Read Betty Jo's interview with Ronald F. Maxwell.

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