Rising documentary filmmaker Barbara Bustillo-Cogswell rides high on the hog

Über-indie Robert M. Young is one of the more appreciated and decorated filmmakers around who has continually eschewed Hollywood tradition in favor of a more humanist approach and still managed to make a living. He has directed some of the foremost names in the game: Willem Dafoe and Edward James Olmos in Triumph of the Spirit, Ray Liotta in Dominick and Eugene and John Lithgow in Rich Kids, among others.

Young has much to say about Bustillo-Cogswell during a phone interview. Young explained the relationship he and Edward James Olmos had established with Bustillo-Cogswell while she lived in Colorado, and how their belief in her went beyond the peripheral.

"When Eddy [James Olmos] and I met her when we were trying to distribute The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," he says, "I saw that she was interested in doing things herself. The local programs she was doing in Colorado I thought were interesting.

I love a parade: Bustillo-Cogswell at work.
Paolo Vescia
I love a parade: Bustillo-Cogswell at work.

"I think [with the biker documentary] she will do something really marvelous. Look, she's not a kid anymore, riding on the back of a bike. I know that from years back I saw things that she did where she wasn't shooting, where other people were shooting for her. Guys in prison who were trying to be artists, a boxer who was injured who was trying to make something of himself. So I thought she had very good and human instincts. Then the fact that she has picked up the camera. I gave her some tips and did a little shooting with her to try to help her. And I felt that she had a very empathetic, natural kind of way of doing it. So I encouraged her and I have been telling her some of my aesthetics, but she's on her own. I think it's impressive.

"Then much later I lent her my camera, not a movie camera but a Cannon LC-1 digital camera. And I saw some of the stuff that she did and saw that she had a natural ability. I encouraged her, talked to her. She did a lot of very nice things. So I was very impressed."

Soon Bustillo-Cogswell will start the editing process, and with more than 400 hours of footage, it will be no easy task. But cutting her a deal on time is Jim Schram at SEI Motion Pictures Productions. She will work out of his studio on the master tape. Prior to that she will be working in her home, putting together transcriptions.

"I will do the transcriptions so I can write a kind of script and do the final cut," she explains. "That way I will know what I am missing in the final story. And I am thinking of shooting more footage on the road and shooting it in film. Then doing the talking heads in digital. My idea is to shoot the road with the feel of the motorcycle and the look of the terrain from the bike on film. And the rest in video."

Dale Cogswell stands tall, well over six feet. Big cerulean eyes. A yellowy, overgrown Vandyke dominates his chin. His face is one part Greg Allman, one part Merlin Olsen. He is equal parts football player and southern biker rock. With dark shades, broad shoulders, thick hands, and on or off of a big hog, Cogswell seems like the sort who could dissuade you doing anything. He assumes easily our stereotype of the biker mold. To most, he's just a big biker dude.

We are at a Phoenix home of one of his biker friends. A guy is in the dining room etching colorful tattoos into various limbs. Today he may give as many as 15 tattoos to as many people. AC/DC and Danzig blare from giant speakers, and children chase each other around the front yard on trikes or small bicycles. A couple of towheaded kids sit in front of the television in the front room as people walk in and out between them and the television.

Harleys line the driveway. Lots of adults wearing Harley-Davidson tee shirts, belt buckles or bandannas. And through all of this the neighbors in this otherwise quiet suburban neighborhood don't seem to mind.

But Cogswell is literally the man behind the woman. He's a gentle sort that would just as soon rattle off a funny story about how his wife once got them out of a traffic ticket by accidentally puking on the state trooper's shoes ("He just walked back into his car and drove off without saying a word") as pull over to the side of the road and help a stranger fix a flat while hundreds of cars speed past.

Will he be getting a tattoo?

"A tattoo, me? Hell, I'm too chickenshit!"

Problematic to most documentarians, or any journalist, is the relationship between their subject and the responsibilities they face in creating their work despite sometimes close bonds.

Bustillo-Cogswell says her relationship with her husband has given her opportunities she wouldn't have otherwise had.

"I mean, I had been around bikers before Dale," she says. "But I don't think I would have embraced it as much, getting into the story as much if he wasn't also totally into the bike. He gets sensitivity as to what it takes to shoot something and get it funded. If anything, he understands the real pain that I have gone through with my history of film or video.

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