Challenging Environments

After his scripts for Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016), which saw him nominated for an Oscar, Taylor Sheridan is fast becoming one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood. His latest film Wind River marks his directorial debut, with a hard-hitting story set on a Native American Reservation in Wyoming starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. We talked to Sheridan about creating female protagonists and the challenges of making your first movie.

ASFF: Wind River begins with the death of a Native American woman on a reservation. Is it based on a true story?
TS: It’s inspired by a true story. It’s inspired by events that are very common on the reservation. Violence against women is an endemic issue on the Native American reservations in the United States. The perpetrators in many instances are not native and exempt from any sort of punishment from these acts. And there are so many legal loopholes that exist around the reservation. It’s such a confounding, offensive and tragic situation that’s not discussed.

ASFF: Do you have a lot of knowledge about law enforcement?
TS: I like to read a lot, but I come from a family of law enforcement…my cousins are Federal Marshals. So I have an understanding of that world. I’ve been around it. I’ve spent a lot of time on reservations. I live in Wyoming. I know this world. I write about things I know, that I can taste. When I decided to write this, I’d spent time there. I was on the Res when a girl disappeared and was killed. Captain of the basketball team. Everyone loved this girl. As heartbroken as everyone was, no-one was surprised.

ASFF: How did you find directing?
TS: The biggest challenge to a director is to try and get a sense of what’s the spirit of the story, what’s the soul of the story. How do I capture that visually? I didn’t have that issue, because I wrote the story. So I know the soul. I have that benefit. Now the challenge is not be so precious with it, and allow it to evolve. I don’t want to limit what it can become. Also, you’re an employer of 120 people who would rather do anything than walking through the snow! And you have to respect them and encourage them and make really efficient decisions, and they must all result in something artistic. So it’s a weird balance of the left and right side of your brain.

ASFF: You show very strong female characters here and in Sicario. Is that a coincidence?
TS: No, there have been really strong women in my life. My mother was an extremely strong woman. She ran the ranch I grew up on. My wife’s a very strong woman, as is my sister. So for me to write about strong women, it’s not something I had to manufacture. It’s all I know. In Wyoming, to exist in that environment, you must be strong. It’s a really beautifully place of really strong spirited people.

Wind River opens in cinemas on 8 September. For more information, visit:

James Mottram

1. Still from Wind River.