By Tara Kolton via NorthJersey.com
His incredible story is told in a documentary film, “His Name is Midnight,” directed by Hewitt resident Kelly Colbert, and designated as an official selection of the 2016 Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City.
The film tells the true story of a horse, a “prince of Big Sky Country,” that was bred for strength and rodeo glory but instead ended up discarded to auction, and ultimately, human cruelty. According to Colbert, his name and lineage were forgotten, but his royal pedigree and his upbringing in the Badlands of Montana instilled in him the strength and tenacity that allowed him to survive his journey through neglect and starvation, until he was found and his name and heritage rediscovered.
“The film is a Cinderella tale as Midnight was a champion barrel racer in Montana who was born on a prestigious ranch. When he was sold at an auction, he lost his identity and became known as Blackie,” said Colbert. “Then after he was saved, I did research and found his papers and his history, which is impressive. It’s a quintessential happy ending.”
The 28-minute film follows how Midnight was sent cross-country to auction in Massachusetts, and ultimately seized as part of a Connecticut cruelty case by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. He now peacefully resides at the West Milford Equestrian Center in Newfoundland.
The film was shot on location in the Badlands of Montana, at the York Correctional Institute (a prison in Connecticut where Midnight lived after he was seized), and the West Milford Equestrian Center.
Colbert said that her intent was “to showcase a survivor’s spirit.” Midnight was born from a royal line of ranch horses and was a great champion. He then fell on hard times and persevered, and was ultimately brought back to glory, explained Colbert.
“There are those creatures on this planet, be they equine, canine or human, that have grit and tenacity. Midnight is a survivor and I wanted to make his spirit the centerpiece of this film,” she said.
Colbert credited Ellamae and Frank Battipaglia, the owners of West Milford Equestrian Center, for being “remarkable and so kind to Midnight.”
“There is nothing profitable about boarding a horse with his issues and yet they have taken him on and give him excellent round-the-clock care. The Battipaglias deserve a huge amount of credit for rehabilitating Midnight and making him the happy horse he is today,” said Colbert.
Colbert and her husband, Andy Nibley, have lived in West Milford for eight years.
“We started off, as many people do, as weekend residents and slowly transitioned from full-time New York City people to full-time happy and relaxed West Milford residents,” she said.
Colbert studied Victorian Literature at the University of Connecticut and went on to attend Fordham University’s Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) program.
“There’s always been that duality of highly creative and highly practical to my life,” said Colbert, who works as head of social media of U.S. Bank.
“His Name is Midnight” is Colbert’s second documentary, made through her production company, Umbrella Girl Media. Her first was the 2010 documentary, “Madonna of the Mills” which was bought by HBO.
Colbert and her husband had adopted a dog from the Amish puppy mills, that had lived four years in a cage.
“Her name was Maisy and she was an angel. I was struck by Maisy’s ability to learn to trust humans again and to ‘forgive and forget’ after being treated so poorly,” said Colbert.
“I knew there were many people doing great work around puppy mill rescue but I felt like the general public didn’t understand that buying a dog from a pet store was keeping the puppy mills in business. I work in advertising, as does my husband, and one day I said to him, ‘We need to do something to educate people about puppy mills. We need to make a documentary.’ He replied ‘We know nothing about filmmaking.’ To which I replied ‘That is just a detail,’” she said.
Colbert and Nibley made “Madonna of the Mills” over the course of three years, and soon after it was completed, HBO called and bought the film. It ran on HBO for two years.
Colbert’s friend Virginia Moore served as the producer for “His Name is Midnight.” Originally from France, Moore has lived in NYC for the past 20 years, and she and her husband purchased a weekend house on Lake Lookover in West Milford in 2012.
“Kelly asked me to be the producer for ‘His Name is Midnight’ and I immediately said yes. I had no filmmaking experience but figured it would be fun to work on this project with my best friend. It was a learning opportunity and a thrilling ride to bring Kelly’s passion project to life and share Midnight’s story,” said Moore, who volunteers at the West Milford Animal Shelter Society on weekends.
“It’s been wonderful to see him settle in at the West Milford Equestrian Center and witness his transformation into a healthier and happy horse,” said Moore. “As an animal lover myself, it’s very rewarding to be part of such a beautiful story. The experience has been fun and fulfilling. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and already look forward to our next project.”
Ray Conley also is the film’s producer and “a huge part of the production,” said Colbert. In addition, she credited Connecticut Department of Agriculture officers Ray Connors and Nancy Jarvis for saving Midnight’s life, and the Battipaglias, along with Kerry Harris, Midnight’s trainer, and Ralph Anthony, his farrier, for giving Midnight the life he has today.
“Documentary filmmaking is one of those things you do because you love it, not because you make much money,” said Colbert.
She said that her next documentary will tell the story of a woman and gorilla who met 15 years ago in Cameroon, and how both of their lives changed during their relationship.
Colbert and Moore are both animal advocates, and bonded on a trip to Cameroon to volunteer at a primate sanctuary called Ape Action Africa.
“We cared for a group of baby chimpanzees, victims of the bush meat trade, for five weeks and lived in the bush with no running water or electricity,” said Moore, adding that she’s spent a total of seven months over several tips at the sanctuary in Cameroon.
“His Name is Midnight” premiered at the Durango Film Festival in Colorado this month, and will screen on Saturday, April 2 at the Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City at 12:15 – 2:15 p.m. in the Resorts-Starlight Room. Tickets to festival screenings are available at http://www.gsff.org.
More festival dates will be coming up, said Colbert. More information about “His Name is Midnight” can be viewed at: facebook.com/HisNameIsMidnight.
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