No doubt about it: Ballad for a Cowboy — the Cinema Arts Festival Houston offering set to screen at 9:45 p.m. Saturday at the Edwards Greenway Palace Stadium — is a textbook example of a documentary made by a filmmaker who chose precisely the right subject at exactly the right time.
In 2006, French documentarian Frédéric Laffont followed Clint Cannon as the ambitious young Waller cowboy — son of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) vet Jay Cannon — set out to prove himself as a bareback rider on a cross-country circuit tour that would lead to competition at RodeoHouston. When Cannon started out, of course, Laffont had no idea just how successful his subject might be.
But at the end of the day, Cannon had the breakthrough victory he wanted — and Laffont had the makings for a movie that, after airing on French television, would appear at film festivals throughout the world, and help establish Cannon as a kinda-sorta international icon.
On Friday, CultureMap caught up with Cannon — now ranked third in the world in PRCA standings — shortly after an all-night drive from Colorado to Waller prior to his Saturday evening appearance at the CAFH presentation of Ballad. (After the 9:45 p.m. screening, he and filmmaker Laffont will be on hand for a Q&A at Edwards Greenway.)
It’s difficult, he admits, to think of himself a movie star. But he’s ready for his close-up in his next collaboration with Laffont: Cowboy Solitude, a mix of documentary and scripted drama that is still a work in progress, but will be represented with sneak-preview excerpt during Saturday’s CAFH program.
CultureMap: When you were first approached by Frédéric Laffont to take part in Ballad for a Cowboy, what was your first reaction? Did you have any doubts whether this dude was on the level?
Clint Cannon: Oh, no, I knew it was legit because the person who sent him to me, he doesn’t mess around. He’s seriously about business. He told me, “This will be a fun deal right here.”
CM: So who recommended him?
CC: Well, actually, it was Yvan Jayne. He’s a French kid who came over here from Marseilles, France to ride bareback horses professionally. That was his dream. He came over here, and now he rodeos here professionally. And, see, Frédéric called him, and told him, “I’m really looking to do something on an American cowboy.” And Yvan told him, “Well, you need to talk to this guy.” So Frédéric called me and we met — and it’s been uphill from there. It’s been a good trip.
He’s actually been on the road with me a lot. I mean, shoot, he knows everything about rodeo now. He’s learned everything about the ins and the outs of the tricks of the trade real good. He’s been with me for many a long night, and many a long drive on the road.
CM: Do you ever feel uncomfortable while watching yourself in Ballad for a Cowboy?
CC: I actually do. I watch it, and I know everybody likes it. But you know, when you do something that’s going to be on TV, you always get a little nervous about how other people are going to view it.
CM: So what’s the most difficult part to watch? When you’re competing? When you’re worried about being thrown from your horse?
CC: [Laughs] Well, I guess the part when I was in love, and I was saying I was in love — and it kind of went south from there a little bit. But it kind of all worked out for itself. Like, I look back it now, and I think it was a good run there. But knowing what happened after that ...