ROCKYFORD | Three rickety wooden crosses stand starkly against the blue sky just behind the modular home sitting on Leroy Pourier's Badlands ranch.
Lots of families keep plots of loved ones' home burials. Some keep markers where beloved pets lay resting.
But these are just leftovers from a movie set.
"We haven't tore them down yet," says Terri Dawn Jandreau, 21, wife of Lakota horse trainer, former rodeo champion, and — newly — film star, Brady Jandreau, 22.
She's sitting on Gus, a 19-year-old sorrel horse, with her and Brady's 9-month old daughter, Tawnee, who wears sunglasses and a sundress and diapers, securely sandwiched between her and the horse's mane.
Brady, riding KC's Sweet Tango, a 4-year-old mare, is accustomed to how "The Rider," filmed on this and nearby land over 18 months ago, hasn't really ended.
"That over there is where Apollo was shot," Brady says, pointing to a nearby rise on the rugged ground. The property — tumbling with short, buffalo grass and dappled with horse manure caked on the clay sod from the sun — is best for hooves and feels firm.
"Well, supposedly shot here, but he wasn't," he says. "I mean the scene was shot here. The actual Apollo was actually shot on the other ranch."
The Pine Ridge rancher and horse trainer is still juggling his newfound identity as an actor whose only, celebrated role is so enmeshed with his own personal story that he sometimes glosses over what's real and what's not. Tuesday afternoon, Brady called the film and its subsequent publicity a "metaphorical bronc."
"It's nothing like the rodeo circuit, but it’s still a circuit.”
In "The Rider," a critically acclaimed film now touring the country, Brady, who is chatty and open in person, plays a more shadowy version of himself: a taciturn, hard-bitten horse-whisperer who starts training horses before his rodeo-induced skull fractured head heals. The film won the 2017 Cinema Art prize in the Directors' Fortnight panel at the prestigious Cannes film festival in France and is now under distribution by Sony Pictures.
Brady has been interviewed by "Fresh Air" host Terri Gross and spent a week in Paris (from his horse he emphasizes the French pronunciation of his surname, "Jandreau"). His friend, Tanner Langdeau, and father, Tim Jandreau, also play roles in the film and got to ride in a 2018 Tesla at a Colorado film festival.
Real life vs. Hollywood
But the glamour of the red carpet is far from the movie's heart, a bare-bones, at times wincing affair. "The Rider" opens with Brady pulling bloody staples from his head and circling Saran wrap around his wound to get into the shower. It ends with him deciding whether or not to rejoin the rodeo, the only life he knows after a failed attempt as a grocery store clerk. That's another difference Brady points out.
"The real me never worked at a grocery store. I just went back to train horses."
Directed by Chloé Zhao — whose previous film was also set and filmed on Pine Ridge — "The Rider" blurs fact and fiction. And on this first visit by media to his Badlands ranch, Brady wants to separate out the art from the life.
"Tanner's about the sweetest teddy bear fella you ever met. He's not a (expletive) like in the movie."
(The film's "R" rating, Brady notes, was explained away via a news release as "cowboy language.")
Brady also wants the visitors to get the horses and their names straight. There's Frosted Coco Puffs, a feisty filly. And he points to the chestnut horse on the end. "This is the actual Gus. Not the one in the movie. The actual Gus. Gus was played by a horse named Mooney over at the Muleshoe Angus Ranch. And this color did not look good on camera, this reddish brown. Chloe wanted the big yellow horse, the big palomino."
One thread true to both the film and real Brady is the scar on his head. He pulls the vanilla cowboy hat off his head to reveal a long incision mark running like a racing stripe over his right ear where a surgeon in Fargo, N.D., peeled back his skin to implant a titanium bar into his skull. "The hair is starting to grow back in, a little bit," he says. When he climbs up on Tango, his frayed loafers, not cowboy boots, hang from his feet suspended in air.
"I could fall off right now and hit my head and break my plate into my brain and you wouldn’t be able to get me to the hospital in time," Brady says. He means to acknowledge his trust in Tango, one of the registered American Quarter Horses he's raising under his new breeding business, Jandreau Performance Horses.
"I'll get the jackets," Terri Dawn says, hopping off Gus, to run to the truck and retrieve the black jackets — one for her, Brady, and daughter Tawnee — advertising the new family business. The family dons the coats. In the spring of 2018, the business is his focus for the future. But the film and its publicity keeps pulling Brady in two directions.
"I'm the kind of guy who wants to make things work," he said, when asked if his frequent travels (picked up by Sony) to film festivals in Telluride, Colo., New York City, and Paris cause distractions. When he's away, he doesn't feel culture shock, "just misses home."
As he re-positions his horse on the hard clay ground against the far west Badlands wall, he says, "It feels a little like work now."
Leading the life of both a rancher and a film star is so far manageable. On Monday, he and his family pushed cattle from the meandering, nickel-colored White River to a grassy hill. Earlier on Tuesday, he'd spoken with Lori Walsh of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A television reporter from Rapid City rolls down the driveway near the K-8 Rockyford School. Today, Brady will drive to Sioux Falls for a film premiere, but he'll return tonight to finish branding Terri Dawn's sister's cattle in the morning.
Below the ridge, the White River runs deeper after a few days of runoff. "Big cat fish are the only good eating fish," Brady says, pointing from Tango. He's riding bareback, with only a halter rope. A cow moves through the tall brush.
"Her name is Cow Girl. You can actually ride that cow," Terri Dawn says.
"I've got pictures if you want to see," says Brady.
A story about life as it's lived
Films about life on a Badlands ranch are rare. South Dakota rodeo legend Casey Tibbs appeared in a list of mostly forgotten Hollywood Westerns. For four months in 1989, Kevin Costner descended to ranches west of Pierre and near Rapid City to make a movie about a U.S. solider posted on the remote frontier who befriends a band of Lakota. But in the story of Brady Jandreau — Brady Blackburn in the film — a story about life as it's lived out here, not as it's imagined, is being told.
Zhao, a 34-year-old native of Beijing and graduate of New York University's film school, first arrived in Oglala country to shoot her first feature-length film, 2015's "Songs My Brothers Taught Me." She cast reservation residents in versions of themselves. When Zhao and her partner, cinematographer Joshua James Richards, met Brady at the Muleshoe Ranch near Sharp's Corner — "same night he met me," Terri Dawn says — she saw her next film's lead.
"She (Zhao) thought I had pretty good vocabulary," Jandreau says, who did a semester of college on a rodeo scholarship at Oklahoma Panhandle State University before dropping out to ride professionally on the rodeo circuit. "I could memorize lyrics and music, and she knew I could memorize lines."
Acting in a professional film left Brady characteristically unsure. His only theater experience came in a sixth grade school play when he walked up and with back turned to the audience urinated on a flower garden.
"'Hey! Quit peeing on my flowers!'" Brady said another actor had to yell out. It got big laughs from the audience. That — and a drama class in high school when he "read some plays" — constituted his previous acting experience.
But Zhao, living in New York City, moved to Denver and drove up frequently to hang out with Brady and Terri Dawn. She and Richards camped out in a tent or drove into the motel in Interior or the casino outside Oglala.
"Josh and I and Terri became real close," Brady says. "She'd seen potential in my acting when she'd seen me work with horses."
Brady has a faint mustache and clear, focused eyes, like someone who maintains an even keel. In the film, his toughness as a bronc rider comes through, but so does his grace with training, or "breaking," the horses. Brady says, "A horse would be so wild, and there'd people standing around with a camera, and I'd stay completely hooked up with the animal."
It's the element of this synergy between Brady and the horses that most pleases his wife. Noting the film doesn't dwell on the hardship so often focal to storytellers who visit Pine Ridge from afar, Terri Dawn says, "It’s about us Lakotas getting in touch with the land and the animals and how we treat ‘em."
Brady was born in Rapid City. His parents are separated — his father is enrolled Lower Brule and lives near Brady, and his mother is enrolled Oglala Lakota and now lives in Kadoka — but he grew up mostly on land near Ft. Thompson, taking the bus into the elementary school in Chamberlain. He did a year of school in Kadoka, another in Presho, before eventually graduating from high school in Ainsworth, Neb. Horses were his passion, though. He could ride without a lead rope before turning two.
On Tuesday, Brady frequently breaks from the interview to check on his animals.
"Tango, quit it!" he says, calling to the animals roped up. "See, look at her, putting her ears back. That's a sign that, 'Hey, you better get out of my space." Brady walks over to use his rough hands to gently push against the mare's behind, relocating her like a big, old, stubborn dog.
Chickens and roosters, occasionally giving report, run beneath the legs of five mares and Gus tied up to the corral's fence.
"Gus thinks he's king," Brady says, murmuring to the horse. "Don't you, Gus?"
A brush with death
"The Rider" debuted in New York and Los Angeles in mid-April, and since has spread nationwide, including Washington D.C., Minneapolis. This weekend it plays locally in Mitchell, Sioux Falls, and the Nunpa Theater in Kyle. Rapid City will wait till later this month to see the film in local theaters. And while stressful, there are benefits to the national attention.
"It'll give our little family a better chance," says Terri Dawn, atop Gus. Her daughter, Tawnee, reaches out, like a princess waiting for attendants to kiss her hand. Under the blue sky interrupted by puffy white clouds, it's hard to imagine almost all of this didn't happen.
On April Fool's Day 2016, a bronc stepped onto Brady's head, as he tried dismounting the horse at a rodeo at the Fargodome in North Dakota. The hoof barely broke the skin, but his brain filled with blood — and sand and horse manure. He remained conscious throughout transportation, until a seizure in Fargo's Sanford Medical Center.
Five days later, after once tearing out breathing tubes while still under an induced coma, Brady woke with family by his side with his head and arms fastened to the bed. On his third try he passed a breathing exam, and doctors let him go home but not before strict instructions to not lift 10 pounds over his head and to stay away from horse riding, especially rodeo.
"The PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) covered a lot of those," Brady said. "The reservation covered some of those, and then some were out-of-pocket."
So Brady returned to the Pourier ranch. They're 50 miles north of the city of Pine Ridge. They buy groceries in Rapid City, 66 miles away. Not many visitors stop off at the property. Life grew still for Brady.
Here the two Bradys — film and reality — veer. In "The Rider," Brady Blackburn spirals. He self-medicates, smoking marijuana and puking up medication. He is gun-shy to get back on a horse and instead finds work at the DakotaMart in Martin, taking pictures with kids who used to look up to the rodeo champion now organizing women's deodorant on the shelf. His fictional doppelgänger even goes to Black Hills Pawn to sell his saddle.
Here, briefly, art and reality emerged.
"He (the clerk) was just chilling and we just walked in, and Chloe talked to him for five seconds, and she was like, 'You're the guy. We don't even need anybody (else)."
But otherwise, the real Brady had a little more focus than Blackburn.
Brady said he chatted days after the injury with Zhao, who called off any plans for filming given riding a horse might endanger his life. Plus, Brady was behind on bills. So, three days later, "I was in there helping my dad pull a calf from a cow," Brady says, pointing to an open pen. Soon, he started by riding Gus, a horse he long knew and could trust. After few more weeks, he was back training horses. He posted on Facebook success he'd had with a horse, when Zhao reached out to him.
"Are you training horses again? Are you serious?"
Brady said he was. Then came another response.
"Do you think you can consistently train horses on film?"
Balancing real job with acting
If the couple weren't scared to get on a 1,200-pound horse, then he couldn't be scared to make a movie. By mid-August, Zhao had a 65-page script. Some scenes just said, "Brady works the horses." The narrative loosely twinned to Brady's own recovery. Beginning in September, they filmed for six weeks. Days began for Brady at 5 a.m., when he'd rise, drink coffee, and go train horses, for his real job. Around noon, he'd come in, eat lunch, shower, and then he'd go out to the yard again, this time to film, staying out till dark.
"Chloe liked the magic hour," he said.
Often, the shoot — split between Muleshoe Ranch and Pourier's property — found Brady in the pen, breaking horses. He'd raise his hat, chase a horse, and chirp at the horse, showing remarkable calm with the broncs.
"The buckskin had already been rode in the morning," Brady says, of his double-duty between actor and horse trainer.
The dialogue, too, often eased out of Chloe's script through the filter of Brady's voice.
"I'd come up with my own authentic way to say it." In a poignant scene toward the end, when Brady wrestles with having to put down a lame horse and reflects on his own injury, he simply says, "I got hurt like Apollo, but I'm a person, so I get to live."
The filming wasn't lucrative. Brady says he made $100 for each day. They didn't shoot every day, either. "It came out of Chloe's pocket," he said. At one point, shooting had to stop so Chloe could go back to raise more money. But soon, Brady acclimated to being on camera.
"Probably the first week of shooting, I didn't even understand what was going on because I didn't even watch dailies," Brady says, slipping in a filmmaking term for the playback of the day's captured video.
Instead, Zhao only gave him subtle acting tips, telling him that "knowing more about the moviemaking process — since it was my first time acting — would've actually hindered my acting."
"The Rider" warms throughout, too. The cast of characters appear increasingly comfortable on-screen. There's Brady's friend, actor, and tattoo artist Cat Clifford playing a song on the guitar around a campfire in the Badlands. There's the heartwarming affection from Brady's sister, Lilly, who has Asperger's syndrome and sings made-up ditties and shouts "goodnight" to the sun. Then there's Brady's father, Tim Jandreau (Tim Blackburn in the film).
The elder-Jandreau lives only a short drive from Pourier's property and stops over on Tuesday afternoon. A truck rumbles down the graveled drive pulling a horse trailer, and out steps Tim and Tanner Langdeau. Tim's character, Brady Blackburn, is an alcohol-abuser who gambles away the family's rent money at Keno. But Tim he asks that his name be mostly cleared. He wears a faded brown Sutton Rodeo T-shirt as Tanner Langdeau, a Lyman High School graduate (who also plays a fictional version of himself in the film), tells a story about a fan of the film approaching them at a film festival and yelling, "You're a real jerk for crushing your son's dreams!"
Viewers can be forgiven for missing the subtleties, as the film works by implication and slight twists from real life. It opens with a sequence pulled from when Brady (actual Brady, not the fictional creation) dreamed he was a horse when he was under the concussion. Zhao's film transitions from darkly lit trailer home, with Brady stumbling around in a cocoon of pain, to the pen and sale barns to the hot lights of a rodeo and the Omaha rehabilitation center of Lane Scott, from Kennebec. Here is another twist.
The film suggests Scott (who plays himself) is another victim of the rough-and-tumble sport of rodeo. But the former rodeo star was injured in a car accident in 2015. A visit by the film crew to a rehabilitation center in Omaha resulted in three scenes, including the film's final moment, as Brady talks to his friend who communicates through hand gestures and works on his mobility.
"We didn't even know about that," Tanner Langdeau said, noting Zhao's trick of editing.
Toward the film's end, tension rises as Brady faces the implication of his own limitations, when the fictional Apollo must be put down by Tim Blackburn with a pistol to the head after the horse carved open its leg on barbed wire. Brady Blackburn wonders if he can and should go back to the rodeo.
NPR called the film a "wounding portrait of masculinity in crisis." The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott, says of Brady that he has a "touch of movie-star charisma, that mysterious, unteachable power to hold the screen and galvanize the viewer’s attention."
Walking along the fence line to the pasture, Brady is low-key about the attention and says he's spoken with a number of magazines. Only a couple of times has he had to say "next question."
"Some people just don't understand people who eat meat and ride animals."
Brady opens the gate. A mess of puppies trot onto the pasture, including an old, gray mop-ball named Chewy, who inspects the visitors. On the family's white gate, a cowbell clanks in the wind. A sign reads, "Live Laugh Love," and out the door comes Pourier. He has a hook for his right hand and shakes with his left. His role in the film — to whistle and say, "What are you doing here, Brady?" — is minimal. He says he prefers Westerns and action films but lately has watched a lot of kids' movies, raising his family.
"Something good always comes from something bad," he says, the sunglasses blocking his eyes in the high sun.
Whether the film has a life beyond its national release is pawed at a little. "We know the Academy has watched it, and that they liked it," Brady says.
"I've never been to L.A.," says Tim Langdeau.
Tim, who says he drove through Fort Pierre the other day and it "felt like home," also said he'd like to get to Los Angeles.
"When I was in New York, I kept looking up asking, 'Why am I in New York City if it's not a rodeo?'"
But all that's down the road. Brady says he's sent out auditions for other acting parts and picked up a manager. His main focus, at least today, is his American Quarter Horse breeding business.
"I don't know what I'm worth, and they do," he says. "I'll ride her out (the acting) and see what she's worth."
Seated on his horse, while Leroy holds Tawnee and Terri Dawn rests back on the horse, her Air Jordan tattoo visible above her half-zipped boots, Brady says he misses the rodeo a little, like his fictional twin.
"I miss the excitement," he says, but notes what's most important is he's here with his family and still training horses.
"She grew up right here, working the land," Brady says, nodding to Terri Dawn.
When Leroy sets Tawnee up on the horse with Terri Dawn, their infant daughter giggles.
"She can't say 'horsey' yet," Terri Dawn says.
"She just says 'eee-eee,'" Brady says.
A delightful grin emerges on Tawnee's face while crawling onto the horse's back. Wind picks up through the distant horseshoe of pink, Badlands buttes, while Dad leads Gus, the same horse he first rode after his injury, on a rope. The memory of a movie filmed here two years ago already feels like ancient history.
"When she sees horseys that means she's happy," Brady says, smiling.
In this way, she's like her dad.
A 28-year-old man pleaded guilty Thursday to raping one child and inappropriately touching another over a period of several years.
Trevor Lone Hill, of Box Elder, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree rape, which occurred in Pennington County sometime between July 2010 and November 2014. The child was 4 to 9 years old during that period and Lone Hill 20 to 24, according to court records.
Lone Hill pleaded guilty also to one count of sexual contact with a child younger than 16, admitting that he touched the child’s genitalia. The offense happened sometime between January 2014 and March 2017, when the child was 9 to 12 years old and Lone Hill 23 to 27.
It’s not clear if the children are male or female. The police reports in both cases, which have been filed in court, are sealed from public view because they involve underage victims.
Lone Hill was arrested in November after law enforcement agencies in Pennington and Meade counties investigated complaints that he engaged in sexual misconduct against minors.
Lone Hill had volunteered at youth organizations in Pennington County, including churches, schools and sports programs, the prosecutor, state Assistant Attorney General Scott Roetzel, previously said.
“The facts of the case and the assistance from victims allowed for the case to proceed in a timely manner,” said Sara Rabern, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.
Under Lone Hill's plea deal with the state, the prosecution would ask for no more than 25 years in prison on the rape case, defense attorney Travis Jones said at the Pennington County hearing Thursday. Under state law, first-degree rape carries a punishment of 15 years to life in prison; Lone Hill's sexual contact offense, 10 to 15 years.
The deal includes the dismissal of Lone Hill’s five other charges in the rape case: two more counts of first-degree rape and three counts of child sexual contact.
Judge Craig Pfeifle, of the 7th Circuit Court, reminded Lone Hill the court wasn’t bound by the plea agreement and that he could pronounce any prison sentence up to the maximum.
Lone Hill is detained at the Pennington County Jail and will return to court for sentencing June 28.
One of the largest critiques of the city’s new arena proposal at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is the lack of a parking plan.
On Thursday, as crews busily unloaded six semitrucks ahead of Chris Young’s “Losing Sleep” world tour event in a closed off parking lot just west of the civic center, Mayor Steve Allender unveiled a parking and transportation plan he said would replace the lost parking spaces from the new arena construction and add 960 more. The unveiling location was far from incidental.
“This is an example of one of the issues with parking that we have,” he said, turning to face the operation. “This particular show is a smaller show ... and about half of what we would typically expect for a concert. This is typical of how we have to operate because of the lack of truck and equipment staging space on this campus.” He added that 126 parking spots were currently closed to the public due to the concert’s setup.
The majority of the plan seeks to exploit the city’s current parking infrastructure in a more efficient manner. A city-owned lot just north of North Street and Barnett Arena would be converted from its current use — storage of the civic center shuttle buses and other miscellaneous civic center equipment — to a 240 parking space lot. The availability to reserve “premier” parking spots near the center’s entrance would also be available for an added fee.
The civic center’s existing shuttle service would expand to downtown Rapid City, where the city currently owns and operates five leased parking lots and the parking garage south of city hall. A shuttle would also service attendees parking in the residential areas just north of the campus, utilizing a single drop off/pickup point along North Street. Currently, the shuttle buses ferry attendees from Central High School, lots G and H on the east side of the civic center, and the lots east of Fifth Street — lots I and J — to the civic center’s entrance.
At least two additional shuttle buses would likely be purchased.
“A single new bus route to make a loop in the downtown and back to the civic center would add upwards of 1,260 spaces,” Allender said. “Riding a shuttle or spending $30 million (the estimated cost of a new parking garage)? To me this is a very easy question to answer.”
The cost of demolishing the existing rectangular structure on the north of North Street lot and converting it into a parking lot would cost approximately $500,000, Allender said. That cost is not part of the $130 million package — $182 million including interest — to build a new arena.
Allender also unveiled a traffic and pedestrian flow plan for the center’s largest events he said may be implemented regardless of whether Rapid Citians decide to build a new arena or renovate the existing Barnett Arena on June 5. Per the preliminary plan, Mount Rushmore Road between Omaha and North streets would be closed to through traffic during large events.
Access to the civic center and Central High School lots would still be open, but a section of Mount Rushmore Road directly between Central High School and the civic center’s main western lot would be closed. Allender said the plan could be implemented for events where attendance was anticipated to exceed 8,000 people.
Additionally, access into and out of the lots east of Fifth Street and south of the Journey museum would be controlled during those times. Access into the lots would continue as normal but cars exiting the lots would be restricted to right turns to avoid traffic congestion near the intersection of New York and Fifth Street.
“What the plan seeks to do,” Allender said, “is get people in and out of these lots more efficiently and safely, to allow pedestrians to cross more efficiently and safely, and to make much greater use of our existing parking lots and facilities in this central area of Rapid City.”