You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Over the Hills And Far Away

Compelling docu has the nerve to be spiritual without entering the minefield of faith.

With: Rupert Isaacson, Rowan Isaacson, Kristin Neff, Simon Baron-Cohen, Temple Grandin, Roy Richard Grinker, Tulga, Ghoste.

When Western medicine fails to cure 5-year-old Rowan Isaacson’s autism, his parents travel halfway across the world to seek assistance from Mongolian shamans in “Over the Hills and Far Away.” Narrated by journalist father Rupert (whose companion book, “The Horse Boy,” will be published in April), this compelling docu presents its story via multiple access points: the subject of autism, the notion of alternative healing and the simple travelogue appeal of an excursion to remote, untamed Mongolia. Pic has the nerve to be spiritual without entering the minefield of faith, and through careful handling, could resonate strongly with underserved auds.

Enlisted to document the Isaacsons’ highly unusual trip, director Michel Orion Scott has the good sense not to suggest their extreme solution will work for others. No typical family would deal with autism in such a way, though even before Rowan was diagnosed, the Isaacsons’ life was far from normal: Rupert and his wife Kristin Neff met in India. She works as a psychology professor; he champions the rights of bushmen in Botswana.

Their son’s birth grounded their world-traveling ways, while the autism itself demanded even more of their attention: Rowan withdrew around others, refused to be toilet trained and suffered painful, extended fits. His only comfort seemed to be an uncanny connection with animals, so Rupert devised a plan to visit Mongolia, where they would travel on horseback across the country in search of shamans who might heal Rowan.

Because Scott’s involvement began at this late stage, he efficiently lays out what background auds need through interviews and homemovie footage of scenes both good (Rowan bonding with an old mare named Betsy) and bad (“Exorcist”-worthy fits of screaming and convulsions). He then manages to maintain that same level of intimacy and access in Mongolia, capturing moments of extreme emotional and physical strain as well as rare breakthroughs when Rowan’s condition appears to retreat. The first shamanistic ceremony appears downright brutal, but the “results” are striking, motivating the Isaacsons to continue their journey deep into Siberia.

Despite shooting much of the material either handheld or on horseback, Scott and his skeleton crew get remarkably clear sound and steady footage, which was then expertly edited by Rita K. Sanders. Rather than adopt a strictly linear format, she includes enlightening testimony from autism specialists and doubles back to the Isaacsons’ Texas home throughout, innocuously seeding ideas that mature and bear fruit later (from the family’s “Code Brown” nickname to the legend of a powerful shaman named Ghoste).

The trip itself could easily have gotten tedious, but Scott and Sanders strike a perfect pace, and their skepticism offsets whatever trite or mushy miracle-working Rupert is prone to impose on the experience through his narration (never on-the-nose, Kim Carroll and Lili Haydn’s piano and strings score encourages further introspection from the audience). What we’re left with isn’t whether or not shamanism cures autism but a more allegorical example of what happens when people seek solutions beyond the boundaries of Western thought.

“Over the Hills and Far Away” was acquired for theatrical distribution by Zeitgeist Films, which is releasing the film under the title “The Horse Boy.”

Popular on Variety

Over the Hills And Far Away

Production: A Horse Boy Foundation production. (International sales: The Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Rupert Isaacson. Directed by Michel Orion Scott.

Crew: Camera (color HD, DV), Scott, Jeremy Bailey; editor, Rita K. Sanders; music, Kim Carroll, Lili Haydn; sound, Justin Hennard; re-recording mixer, Matt Ludwick. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 17, 2009. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: With: Rupert Isaacson, Rowan Isaacson, Kristin Neff, Simon Baron-Cohen, Temple Grandin, Roy Richard Grinker, Tulga, Ghoste.

More Film

  • Keeley Hawes to Star in Untitled

    Keeley Hawes to Play Patricia Neal in Film About the Star and Roald Dahl (EXCLUSIVE)

    Keeley Hawes will star opposite Hugh Bonneville in a film about the Oscar-winner Patricia Neal and her husband, author Roald Dahl. Formerly known as “An Unquiet Life,” and based on Stephen Michael Shearer’s book of the same name, the family drama starts filming this week in Surrey, southern England. John Hay directs. He co-wrote the [...]

  • Eddie Murphy Antonio Bandares Variety Actors

    Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas Share More in Common Than 'Shrek'

    Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”) and Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”) sat down for a chat for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” For more, click here.  Antonio Banderas takes on the role of his career as the director who discovered him in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory,” playing a fictionalized take on Almodóvar sorting [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Robert Pattinson Actors on

    Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Lopez on Batman, 'Hustlers' and 'The Lighthouse'

    Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”) and Robert Pattinson (“The Lighthouse”) sat down for a chat for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” For more, click here.  In “Hustlers,” Jennifer Lopez plays Ramona, the ringleader of a gang formed in a New York strip club. She’s equal parts private dancer and hardened criminal, a combination that Oscar voters might [...]

  • Napa Valley Film Festival Placeholder

    Napa Valley Film Festival Uncorks New Leadership, Rising Stars

    Nestled in the rolling vineyards and Instagram-worthy towns, the Napa Valley Film Festival kicks off its ninth edition with a new leader, and a renewed mandate to build on its success. NVFF runs Nov. 13-17 in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Entertainment industry veteran Tom Tardio took over as CEO in July, and reports [...]

  • Gaston Pavlovich

    'The Irishman' Producer Gaston Pavlovich Inks Deal With Endemol (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Irishman” producer Gaston Pavlovich and his Mexico City-based production company Fabrica de Cine have inked an overall development and production deal with Endemol Shine Boomdog, the Mexican outpost of Endemol Shine North America. The deal comes as “The Irishman” opens the Los Cabos International Film Festival on Wednesday. The screening marks the Latin American [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron to Be Honored by Costume Designers Guild (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Costume Designers Guild announced Wednesday that Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron will be honored with the spotlight award. The Spotlight Award honors an actor whose talent and career personify an enduring commitment to excellence, including a special awareness of the role and importance of costume design. “Charlize Theron is a costume designer’s dream, bringing integrity [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    'Ford v Ferrari' Soundtrack Revealed (EXCLUSIVE)

    The full tracklist for the forthcoming 20th Century Fox film “Ford v Ferrari,” starring Academy Award-winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale, has been revealed below. The film is based on the true story of American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and the British-born driver Ken Miles (Bale), who together battled corporate interference, the laws of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content