bitterbrush cowgirl magazine
Photos by Alejandro Mejia.……

Emelie Mahdavian’s striking film Bitterbrush masterfully captures the grandeur of the American frontier through the perspective of Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline, two experienced range riders who are spending their last summer herding cattle in the remote and rugged mountains of Idaho. Totally off the grid with only their dogs as companions, Hollyn and Colie brave inclement weather and perilous work conditions while questioning their purposes and contemplating their futures.

A quiet-but-powerful portrait of friendship, life transitions, and the work of two exceptionally skilled and resourceful young women against the isolated and beautiful landscape of the American West, Bitterbrush is an intimate and attentive portrayal of a nomadic way of life rarely seen on film. The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in 2021.

How did you come to meet Hollyn and Colie? And why did you choose to focus on two women?

Emelie Mahdavian: Actually, I met Hollyn at a dinner at my neighbor’s house the summer before we began production. I was living in rural Idaho in an off-grid cabin about 20 miles from the area where we see Hollyn and Colie working, and in fact the ranch they worked for sometimes put them up in a house about one mile from me. So, they were my neighbors.

I decided to focus on them because I wanted to make a film about women in ranching that went beyond the “oh, look! Women can do this too”-type of thing. Because Hollyn and Colie are actually excellent at their work. I was told this by my neighbors who were ranchers. So I just wanted to take their expertise and skill for granted and then use the film to bring the audience into a place they probably don’t often go, but ground it in this beautiful thing, which is women’s friendship.

Where did the idea for the film come from? Were there specific influences that inspired it?

EM: I wanted to tell a story from the community where I lived. The idea for this specific film came from meeting Hollyn. Not only was it obvious that these women were really interesting people doing fascinating work, but they were tough. Living for long stretches beyond phone reception without utilities, sometimes out on the range in very inclement weather on pretty treacherous terrain. It was immediately compelling.

But I also knew right away that my artistic approach was not going to lean into the sensational so much as the formal. I wanted to make it a one-season film, bounded by the late spring and early fall snows. And I was inspired by the cinema tradition of sensory ethnography; by the smell of sagebrush; by my own feeling for the rhythm of life off-grid and by the knowledge of how seasonality can permeate human lives too. These ideas guided the pacing of the edit, the construction of the sound design, and the cinematography.

Bitterbrush is coming to a theater near you on June 17 and will be available on demand anywhere you rent your movies starting on June 24.

To learn more about the film and see Hollyn and Colie in action, visit the film’s official website at