Director and Cinematographer Mary Haverstick captures the two years of shaming, shunning, and controversy in her feature documentary, The Last Horsemen of New York. Through the horse carriage controversy, Haverstick educates the audiences about the sobering reality of how influential money is in today’s politics. Christina Hansen and Stephen Malone represent the community of working class carriage drivers, who fight a battle where ignorance is used, sympathy is ignored, and opinions can be bought. (KIZJ: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Katusha Jin
“Christina Hansen” grew up with a love for horses. After coming to New York from Kentucky, she quickly became a part of the carriage driving community. Hansen explains to her customers on the carriage, that the roads in Central Park were originally designed a for horse carriages. Back in the 1800s, members of the elite class in New York would carry out carriage parades on Wednesday afternoons. They would sit in their best carriages with their best horses to show and indulge in their status. The other classes in society also wanted to experience the park the way the elite did, but most people could not afford a horse and a carriage. From this, the industry was born. The lower classes would pay for the carriage to take them around the park the same way the elite did; this was considered a social outing.
When “Mayor deBlasio” announces to the public that he will eliminate the horse carriage industry, the members of the industry are devastated. Christina Hansen and “Stephen Malone”, a second-generation carriage driver, are thrown into leading positions to speak up and protect their community and livelihood. Hansen’s bravery and outspoken personality drove her to call into the WNYC station and confront the Mayor on this decision. She quotes and questions what his justification is for stripping away the careers of this entire industry made up of working class Americans, when he promised to fight for income inequality. Under the guise of fighting for animal rights, deBlasio weasels his way out of the question on air.
Soon, animal rights activists are surrounding the carriages and they shout shaming comments at the drivers. A fashion show, which was supposed to be held in the carriages, is interrupted and model “Rain Dove”, confused about the disgruntled protestors, begins looking into the issue. Despite hearing horror stories from the activists about the ways the horses are treated, Dove explains the opposing view as told by the carriage drivers—that the horses are in fact treated very well and seen more as employees. She visits the stables to verify and see for herself which side is telling the truth.
Actor “Liam Neeson” joins the carriage drivers in spreading awareness about the horse carriage industry on The Tonight Show. Citing that the industry has been around since before Lincoln’s inauguration, he hosts a tour around the stables and invites the Mayor; deBlasio does not show up. In fact, despite talking about the industry’s mistreatment of horses and animal rights violations, the Mayor has never been to the stables.
Mary Hayerstick does not stop here. She then goes on to film “Christine Quinn”, a previous candidate in the mayoral election, who throws light on how real estate giants funded her campaign with the expectation that she would rid of the carriage industry. When she did not reciprocate the sentiment, funding was pulled and anti-Quinn campaigns began, leading to her defeat.
As a cinematographer and editor, Mary Hayerstick catches many appropriate comments and clips, and stiches them together to form a powerful argument for her cause. In terms of directing, Hayerstick does very well on informing the audience about the situation from the drivers’ and the third party’s perspective. Christina Hansen and Stephen Malone are passionate subjects, providing a strong perspective of the drivers, whereas Liam Neeson and Rain Dove create a balance of the issue from a third party’s standpoint. However, there is a lack of perspective from the opposition’s stance.
As enlightening and educating as the documentary is, there is a tendency to demonize the opposition. I still want to hear more about what the Mayor’s office have to say about the subject, as well as whether the protestors looked into the controversy themselves, or if it was simply hearsay. Mary Hayerstick does, however, manage to bring to our attention just how dangerously influential and damaging ignorance can really be.
Top Photo: “Christina Hansen” driving a carriage.
Middle Photo: “Liam Neeson” speaking up about the horse carriage industry.
Bottom Photo: Two carriage horses resting.
Photo Credits: Haverstick Films
An animal rights protestor has a short, harsh conversation with Christina Hansen outside of the City Hall.