American buffalo are so physically and culturally linked to North America that it is difficult to imagine them living in any other country. So wouldn’t it be interesting to see them roaming the harsh, wet plains of Scotland? This is the basis for Maurice O’Brien’s short documentary Buffalo Dreams, which sees the struggles of buffalo farmer Scott Shand as he tries to maintain Scotland’s only commercial buffalo herd.
We are introduced to Scott in video footage of him and his family on a trip to the US in 2007, during which time he fell in love with the animals. He realised his dream of starting his own buffalo farm in Scotland, but the difficulties of keeping the animals start to take their toll. We see the highs and the lows of Scott’s experience, from his children bonding with the buffalo, to the image of the lifeless body of a buffalo who has passed away. The film is not necessarily easy viewing, as the harsh realities of Scott’s dream become apparent. However, Scott’s passion and determination is inspiring; he attempted something brave and ambitious and should be commended for it.
The film looks beautiful. Director of photography Fraser Rice has done an incredible job of framing the cold yet beautiful vistas of the Scottish coast; the image of buffalo roaming free with the raging ocean in the background is quite breath-taking. The score by Irish folk-rock band The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock is suitably haunting and matches the images and themes perfectly.
By the time Buffalo Dreams comes to an end, it is difficult not to feel a sense of disappointment. It is difficult to watch someone’s dream being tested, but it is also difficult not to feel a desire for the story to continue. Scott’s story could have easily filled out a longer documentary, and it is a compliment to director O’Brien and the quality of his film that Buffalo Dreams leaves the viewer wanting more.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Buffalo Dreams is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival. The next and final screening is taking place on Sunday June 15th at 1pm. For more information or to purchase tickets visit the SFF website here.