Still Mountain is a new documentary from Big Buddha Films
Irene set up Still Mountain, a ranch on the outskirts of Sheffield over many years with her Amish husband, Chris. They imported ‘cowboy’ horses from the USA and lived an Amish lifestyle, off grid, in their log cabin surrounded by wildlife. When Chris died of cancer three years ago, Irene was left alone, getting older, almost deaf and with no one to help her run the place. Her husband had managed most of her affairs in their very traditional marriage. She had no idea about the general running of things. The cost of maintaining the land and horses is huge and she is sinking further into trouble trying to survive and keep all the horses alive. Today, Still Mountain is no longer a viable business and has fallen into disrepair.
Luckily for Irene, a neighbour Alison, a retired university researcher, has been trying to help Irene find ways of making Still Mountain viable again. She has stabled her own horse on Irene’s land and is helping to maintain the place since Chris died. But there is way too much work for the two of them and nowhere near enough income to adequately look after the horses, some of whom are getting old and sick. So several months ago, sinking under the weight of it all, Alison placed an ad for help.
Steven is an ex cocaine addict from Newcastle with an extremely troubled past. Newly released from his latest stint in prison and in a perilous state, he was admitted to Phoenix House, a rehab centre in Sheffield. He has undergone an intense program of recovery. A friend told him about Alison’s ad in a pet shop that was looking for volunteers to help out at Still Mountain. Having always loved horses, Steven responded and Alison arranged for him to come and help. Steven quickly fell in love with the place and now comes every day. His connection with the horses is incredible. There is an unmistakable bond between them, a natural affinity. In addition to this, a close friendship triangle and deep dependency has evolved between Steven, Alison and Irene.
Steven hasn’t used drugs in over 18 months now and he swears the horses and Still Mountain have saved his life. He says for once he has a purpose, is needed and appreciated. He is relishing the opportunity to give back and help others after the chaos, sorrow and destruction he has created in the past.
As well as Steven, other recovering addicts from Phoenix House signed up to volunteer at the ranch, coming once or twice a week.
A few months ago, Alison discovered a horseman named Joe who trained in the America. He devotes his life to teaching both human and horse to develop a partnership. Joe visits Still Mountain weekly. Over the next few months he is planning to train Steven to ride ‘western’ and take part in competitions. Steven is currently doing the groundwork, using a technique called ‘The Feel’ building up to his first riding lesson. But this comes at a cost, so they are looking at ways to fund Steven’s training.
All of this is now in jeopardy. Still Mountain is in serious danger of being shut down due to the surrounding neighbours petitioning Sheffield City Council to get Irene off the land. They see the ranch and it’s motley crew as a blot on the landscape. There are huge class issues at play here.
So the Still Mountain community is now fighting hard to try and save Irene’s home, horses and the very essence of Steven’s world, the key to his continued recovery and healing. If the council closes the ranch, Irene will be made homeless and ten old, but much loved horses will have to be put down. This is having a huge impact on Irene’s mental health and she says that she often thinks of suicide. The only thing keeping her going are her horses and her new found community with Steven and Alison.
During the coming months we will see if the fight with the council is successful. What will become of Irene and Steven if they close Still Mountain down? They must do all they can to raise the stakes for the place, bringing in as much new business as they can. They have all kinds of creative plans for the place. This has to succeed. Their very lives depend upon it.
The Creative Team
Still Mountain will be Directed by Debbie Howard, Produced by Colin Pons. It is a co production between Big Buddha Films, Studio of the North and Sheffield Hallam University.