Acclaimed New Indie Film ‘Jockey’ Has Texas Roots

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This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Clifton Collins Jr. in a scene from “Jockey.” (Adolpho Veloso/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

Photo: Adolpho Veloso, HONS/Associated Press

“Jockey,” the acclaimed new indie film that opens in Houston on Feb. 4 about an aging jockey and on skates starring Clifton Collins Jr., is set in Arizona — but its roots are in Texas.

Director/co-writer Clint Bentley lives in Dallas and co-writer/producer Greg Kwedar is based in Austin and, while doing their homework for the script, they spent time at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston.

“We slept in a tack room,” Kwedar recalled in a phone interview. “When we woke up the next morning at dawn, prayers were blaring over the loudspeaker in English and Spanish. You arrive on the rails as the morning exercises begin, and you feel like you have just been granted this access to this very privileged world, the power of all the textures of people and horses. It was alive in a way that I had never seen this community before.

The film was inspired by Bentley’s father, who was a traveling jockey, and Kwedar says they wanted to capture this more run-down world, which is why they shot at the aging Turf Paradise in Phoenix, as opposed to a dirtier track. flashy and more modern that feels like a casino.

Director Greg Kwedar

Photo: Phyllis Kwedar

“Turf Paradise had signs of its former glory when Marilyn Monroe was flying away (from Los Angeles),” he says. “He has a really tactile character. … The jockeys and trainers invited us into their world, and because Clint came from that world, they thought he would be an honest steward of those stories.

It’s this sense of lived reality that fuels “Jockey,” in which the character played by Collins finds himself thrown out of his saddle emotionally by injury, degenerative health issues, and the arrival of a young competitor (played by Moises Arias). The industry took notice, nominating “Jockey” for two Independent Spirit Awards (Male Lead Actor and John Cassavettes Award) following honors at the Sundance and AFI Film Festivals.

As well as being inspired by the life of Bentley’s father, Kwedar says the writing partners were also motivated by a desire to offer a lead role for Collins, someone they had previously worked with on the Texas-shot “Transpecos”, one of the best independent films of 2016. In this thriller, set in a remote border patrol station somewhere near the Texas-Mexico border, Collins is an agent who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a a dirty business.

“What we saw when we did ‘Transpecos’ is that he’s always been an actor who in everything you see grabs your attention, from ‘Capote’ to ‘Traffic’ and beyond. “, says Kwedar. “When we did ‘Transpecos’ with him, we just saw the intensity of his preparation. He’s such an inside actor, the way he hides under words. Every night we would be in his hotel room doing workshops on the scenes of the day. He was a leader from day one. But in the following years, we became friends.

Their plan to raise the 51-year-old actor’s profile seems to be working. The New York Times recently stated, “he seems to be heading for a major breakthrough” as the Washington Post said that “in the visually poetic ‘Jockey,’ Clifton Collins Jr. finally gets the canvas he deserves.”

Molly Parker, left, and Clifton Collins Jr. in “Jockey.” MANDATORY CREDIT: Adolpho Veloso/Sony Pictures Classics

Photo: Adolpho Veloso/Sony Pictures Classics

“Jockey” should also raise the profile of Bentley and Kwedar, who have worked under the radar for years, the two swapping over directing and producing duties. “Transpecos”, for example, was directed by Kwedar and produced by Bentley, in contrast to their roles in “Jockey”. Now Kwedar, who hailed from the Fort Worth area before going to Texas A&M University and then moving to Austin, is developing a new project that he will lead.

Things were put on hold because of the pandemic, but Kwedar says the downtime actually helped shape “Jockey.” “In a way, it became a blessing in disguise,” he says. “It gave some things time to marinate, and we came back to it with a critical eye. … But (during post-production) we were spread all over the world and we went right under the wire to get into Sundance.

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  • cary darling

    Cary Darling joined the Houston Chronicle in 2017 where he writes about arts, entertainment and pop culture, with a focus on film and media. A native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, he was a reporter or editor at the Orange County Register, the Miami Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Additionally, he has freelanced for a number of publications, including the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News.

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