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SXSW: Good Ol Girl

“Texas is the place where so much of the entire West was born. There is that sense of freedom. And it has to do with ownership of space.”

Joyce Gibson Roach, Folklorist and author of The Cowgirls

Directed by Sarah Brennan Kolb, Good Ol Girl explores the struggle between long-held traditions and female independence and the slow fade of rural life. This documentary profiles three cowgirls as they try to forge a life for themselves in a man’s world. These are women who want to show that they can compete with the guys and do what they do but still be a woman in their own right.

Mandy is a rancher who raises beef cattle and bison. She’s religious and firmly traditional. She struggles with the internal battle of opposing desires: to thrive as an independent business woman and to be a wife and mother. 

Sara is the next in line to run the family ranch. However, she bucks with tradition and decides to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. 

Martha desperately wants to work in agriculture but can’t find a job. With the encroaching suburbs, land is far more valuable for housing development than it is for ranching making job options scarce.

“I was born and bred to be a cowgirl.”

Martha Santos

Filmmaker Kolb grew up in Texas and says this about what she observed:

“Strict adherence to ‘traditional’ gender roles, political powerlessness over one’s own body, and the assumption that a woman’s place was safe inside a ranch-style house, permeated the lives around me. Like most women, I discovered that accepting the dissonance between the person you are on the inside, and the face you present to the world, is part of growing up.”

Good Ol Girl effectively demonstrates the struggle these women face to live within the confines of their strictly gendered upbringing while also seeking independence through their respective careers. The documentary felt uneven at times. Mandy’s story was far more interesting. For those of you sensitive to footage of dead animals, there is a particularly jarring scene where Mandy discovers one of her heifers died during childbirth. I still can’t get that image out of my mind.

Good Ol Girl was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information.

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