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RIFFA: Sask. film follows three teens navigating rodeo circuit, coming-of-age story

A new documentary from Sask. filmmaker Kristin Catherwood explores the complexity of teens competing in the rodeo circuit in a big transitional period of their lives.

REGINA — Radville-based filmmaker Kristin Catherwood is one of a record number of female directors being featured at this year’s Regina International Film Festival and Awards, with her most recent documentary Lift, Spur

The film follows brothers Orrin and Liam Marshall and long-time friend Chance Sjogren as high school rodeo competitors, as well as their personal journey together as they approach the end of their teen years.

Catherwood trailed the three young men, who hail from Coronach, Sask., during their 2018 CCA rodeo season, at first to film an introspective look at the culture and community of the sport.

“It's about rodeo in southern Saskatchewan and about the friendship and brotherhood of these three competitors,” said Catherwood.

All three young men were in their teens at the time of filming, and older brother Liam was on the precipice of leaving home for the first time to head to university.

“They have this tight-knit friendship and this lifestyle of travelling together and going to rodeos every weekend,” said Catherwood. “It was sort of their last summer together, before things were really going to change for them.”

For Catherwood as the documentarian, the story she witnessed and ultimately told in the film ended up being about much more than the surface activity of the rodeo season. 

She describes Lift, Spur as a story about the bonds of brotherhood and that pivotal moment in life where young adults face the transition from childhood to the next step.

“It’s really a story about their friendship and growing up, and sort of facing those challenges and uncertainties of going out into the world as an adult and leaving behind the protected space [of youth],” said Catherwood. “I was really sort of touched, by this friendship I was seeing and that moment of growing up, [of] finding your own footing as an individual.”

The film, of course, follows the three competitors’s successes — or not — during their rodeo season, which is an exciting story in and of itself, but Catherwood saw that their season also really mirrored some of the personal turmoil the friends were dealing with as well.

“I saw that kind of coming on for these boys and saw their passion for rodeo, and this cool lifestyle where they’re young and on the road and really independent in a lot of ways,” said Catherwood. 

Lift, Spur is actually a spin-off from a shorter project from Catherwood called Ride, which focuses on Liam as an ethnographic portrait of bareback bronc riding. 

In spending time with the Marshall family, Catherwood said that her vision for a short film evolved into a larger, more in-depth exploration of the culture of rodeo in southern Saskatchewan — and how it helped connect three teenagers.

“I saw there was this larger story happening, and that was intriguing to me,” said Catherwood. “My vision of the film changed, as time went on [and] you see that in the film.”

The film was independently produced by Catherwood, with the aid of several industry colleagues and friends, who said she couldn’t wait for funding to help her make upgrades for the project — so she did it herself.

As someone from rural Saskatchewan, Catherwood felt like the topics showcased in Lift, Spur would be really relatable to a wide swath of prairie audiences. 

She thought that many would be able to empathize with the anxiety of leaving home for the first time to venture somewhere new and totally different.

“I think that’s a really relatable [experience],” said Catherwood. “We all go through that and it was interesting to see it played out against this backdrop of rodeo, this really iconic kind of cultural tradition in the west and in southern Saskatchewan.”

And as a filmmaker, Catherwood also said she wanted to tell the story in a way that audiences who don’t know rodeo, or maybe even don’t enjoy it, are still able to relate to the film. 

“We get to see the intense action behind the scene at a rodeo, that lifestyle they lead which is really exciting and there’s lots of adrenaline and energy, but that’s not really the focus,” said Catherwood.

“The focus is how they’re navigating the challenges that go along with a competitive sport and the risk of injury and being away from home, figuring things out on your own and maybe wanting that summer to last forever.”

Lift, Spur was originally meant to debut in the 2020 film festival in Regina, which was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic. It instead participated in a few other online festivals, and is now making its Saskatchewan premiere this week at RIFFA.

Catherwood said she is excited to be returning this year to screen the film, and was impressed to hear that more than half the submissions featured on the schedule include female directors.

“I’m really looking forward to the film actually being seen, especially here in Saskatchewan where it was made because it’s really a Saskatchewan story, so it's really meaningful to me,” said Catherwood.

RIFFA 2021 is taking place from Aug. 10-14, with festival passes or individual film passes available to purchase online at An in-person viewing of the film will also be taking place at the Old Coronach Street Festival later in August.