The Documentary 'Bitterbrush' Is Pure Horse Girl Cinema

Seek out this documentary in theaters this weekend or VOD on June 24.

Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures

Is there a horse girl canon? A canon of art that feels like it truly represents the idea of a horse girl? You could argue for The Return of the King mainly because of the Eowyn sequences. The American Girl doll Felicity. Misty of Chincoteague. More recently The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. Behold the latest entry: Bitterbrush, a documentary about women, their horses, their dogs, and their friendship.

Emelie Mahdavian’s film, which is out in theatres this weekend, is a stunning portrait of Colie Moline and Hollyn Patterson, range riders who herd cattle together in the rural Midwest. It’s an intimate portrait of an itinerant, isolated lifestyle that is nothing short of a calling. But it’s also an examination of what a community looks like, even if that community means just two people and a bunch of animals.

Mahdavian drops the viewer in with Colie and Hollyn as they are preparing to set out for an assignment, loading an unruly horse into a trailer. When they arrive at their destination, they are thrilled that this year they have a whole little house to themselves instead of a camper. Hollyn cracks about wanting a “wife” to cook and clean for them, admitting that is not her own nature, a joke which will ring of irony later. Their coterie of dogs, including a puppy that looks like a baby bear, are there to herd and work, but they also cuddle in bed with their owners. The line between colleague and pet is very thin.

The herding is hard and exhausting for all the creatures involved, but Mahdavian settles into the beautiful rhythms of it. Hollyn and Colie are easily funny as they accidentally anthropomorphize the cows as obstinate children. There’s something peaceful about the way the women break for lunch, making sandwiches from bread that has been flattened in their saddlebags and prepackaged tuna salads. They share a Pepsi between them.

Mahdavian’s camera highlights the visual splendour of her subject’s lives, but their words make the economic realities of the job strikingly clear. Farm labour is in Colie’s blood, and as she sits at a fireplace she talks about the death of her mother, a woman whose hands told the story of her life on the land. It’s a monologue that could have been scripted in its poetry, but has the lilt of sorrow that bleeds authenticity.

Bitterbrush makes it evident that this is the only way for Hollyn and Colie, whose ability with horses is effortless, evident in a sequence where Hollyn breaks a small Palomino she names Marilyn because of her blonde mane. But more crucial than their instinctive understanding of animals or environment is their sisterly bond with each other. It’s horse girl cinema, yes, but it’s also deeply human cinema as well.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.