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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on September 4th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 27

Filmmaker Benedicte Schoyen discusses new documentary, The Old Spanish Trail, screening in Santa Ynez


Hollywood aspiration wasn’t what brought filmmaker Benedicte Schoyen, born and raised in Oslo, Norway, to relocate to Los Angeles in her early 20s. The big move was to study ballet and eventually open her own dance studio, a dream she accomplished far before developing an interest in filmmaking.

Go directly to trail
The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum screens The Old Spanish Trail on on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m. Admission is $15 for Museum members and $20 for non-members. Reservations are encouraged by calling (805) 688-7889 or emailing The museum is located at 3596 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. Visit for more info.

The Old Spanish Trail, a documentary following three horseback riders on a 1,200 mile journey from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, New Mexico, screens in Santa Ynez on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m.

While working as a choreographer on the Eurovision Song Contest, she began utilizing video cameras to record each dance from different angles.

“I played a lot with filming and editing my own little videos,” she told the Sun. “I became very passionate about it. Editing was kind of choreography in a different way and I loved it.”

With that perspective in mind, Schoyen feels that “dance and film go hand in hand,” she added, citing that both media require intricate timing and a certain “musicality.” From that point on, the professional dancer continued dabbling in filmmaking, nurturing her growing passion before finally committing to a large project.

After being invited on a four-week trip to Niger, Schoyen decided to invest in a new camera and document the experience. The invitation came from Leslie Clark, founder of The Nomad Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supplying resources to otherwise unassisted nomadic tribes. Leslie is also the aunt of Ned Clark, Schoyen’s husband, hence their connection.

Director Benedicte Schoyen will take part in a Q&A following the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum’s screening of her new documentary.

The footage Schoyen shot, centered on Leslie’s efforts in Niger, culminated in the completion of her first feature film, Roadtrip Niger. The film was still in post-production by the time Schoyen was set on directing her next documentary at the end of 2014. Like her debut, the film is a family affair—this time following her father-in-law, horseback rider Jim Clark; and two of his colleagues, Richard Waller and Otis Calef.

Where to? Down the 1,200-mile stretch from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, New Mexico, known as the Old Spanish Trail (which became the title of the film). Their trip marked the first time anyone had attempted to ride the trail’s full length on horseback and mule since 1849.

“I basically followed them on the journey and documented what happened,” Schoyen said. “I never tried to orchestrate any drama to make it a better film, but I sprinkled some history lessons and stayed true to what experience the guys had.”

Nearly five years after shooting began, Schoyen’s second feature film, The Old Spanish Trail, is making its way up and down the festival circuit, picking up an award along the way (Best Environmental and Mountain Culture Film at the 2019 Mountain Film Festival). 

On Sunday, Sept. 8, the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum will be screening the documentary. Schoyen and both Clarks, Jim and Ned (who also scored and narrated the film), will take part in a Q&A after the film.

“The film features horsemen who are very much like our [Santa Ynez] Valley residents,” the museum’s executive director, Brian Stenfors, told the Sun. “Local riders, like the men in the film, are interested in retracing the footsteps of those before us. They seek solace from everyday modern life by exploring the oak and chaparral environment of the valley backcountry.”

Jim Clark, Schoyen’s father-in-law, is one of the three horseback riders documented in The Old Spanish Trail.

Stenfors believes the film will resonate deeply with Santa Ynez’s riding community and will serve as a great reminder of how fortunate local riders are to live in a region that embraces trail riding, ranching, and land stewardship, he explained.

“There is high interest in our community to preserve this recreational pursuit by protecting the area from overdevelopment for the benefit of current and future generations,” Stenfors said. “The message in The Old Spanish Trail reinforces our desire to respect our past as we plan for the future.” 

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood’s horseback experience is limited to pony rides at Waller Park. Contact him at

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