There's a simplicity in the presentation of Cowboy and Preacher that seems to fit perfectly with its subject, a compelling and thoughtful conservative evangelical preacher named Tri Robinson, whose theology includes an undeniable Biblical mandate of environmentalism.
Directed by Will Fraser, Cowboy and Preacher for the most part centers itself around the passionate presence of Robinson himself. Following a profound, life-changing experience in 1980 while working among the Karen Hill Tribe people on the border between Burma and Thailand, Robinson and his wife Nancy reached the decision that he would leave behind his life in education and enter full-time ministry. They spent eight years as associate pastors of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster, California before moving to Boise, Idaho and planting a Vineyard Christian Fellowship that has grown into a 25 acre campus with 3,000+ members over the past 25 years.
If you're at all familiar with my own background, you likely let out a little bit of a gasp right there.
With a personal Vineyard history best described in general terms as somewhat traumatic, I'll confess I cautiously approached even the idea of moving forward with this review. Could I, in fact, set aside my own biases well enough to effectively review a film that admittedly intrigued me?
I decided I could. I believe that I have.
If you're familiar with the charismatic Vineyard movement, then you likely also know that it is a conservative evangelical movement and Robinson is very quick to point out that he is not a liberal or a "tree hugger" or any of the stereotypes one typically experiences when thinking about an environmentalist. He believes in a faith based upon the Bible and the Bible's truths and this drives his belief and practice that we are commissioned to care for this earth.
While we might have points of disagreement theologically, the truth is that I found both Robinson and Cowboy and Preacher engaging, compassionate, intelligent, and incredibly well spoken. He lives a sustainable lifestyle with an intent of having a positive environmental impact. He practices a deep faith. Indeed, Cowboy and Preacher features scriptural references throughout its running time and seems to very intentionally avoid much of the razzle dazzle so common in documentaries these days. Robinson believes in innovative education and ethical, godly leadership.
The film, which screened at Dances With Films, has recently been released via Amazon Prime and other digital/VOD channels and is available on DVD on its website. The website also weaves together study & learn options into the cinematic experience, an appropriate addition for such an education-oriented, faith-based film.
It's a difficult battle. Robinson, who has retired from his Vineyard pastoral role, has worked relentlessly to bring around his flock and show how and why Christians need to face the environmental challenges around us. In doing so, he teaches Christians that they can find purposeful action and be reinvigorated as an active force for good on this issue, building bridges across social divides and present Christianity in its best light.
Cowboy and Preacher is a low-key, beautiful film to behold. Its imagery embraces Robinson's presence in the heart of America's western mythology. The film's lensing is wondrous, while Richard Quesnel's atmospheric original music perfectly companions the calm demeanor and passionate voice of Robinson.
An important film for both those who consider themselves environmentalists and for conservative and liberal Christians, Cowboy and Preacher builds a desperately needed bridge and centers itself around a man comfortable with his theology yet also willing to cross that bridge. Never less than engaging, Cowboy and Preacher is a documentary worth checking out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic