Nokota horses featured in film
Vanishing knowledge coming to Netflix
LINTON – “After 40 years of work I’m happy the horses are still here,” remarked Frank Kuntz, Linton. “They are super, super smart horses, some of the smartest, most compassionate I’ve ever been around. They are amazing. They read people so well. You can do almost anything with them. They show communication, trust, and respect. They are honest.”
Kuntz knows. The 70 year old grew up around horses, many different breeds, but his passion has been Nokota horses. Today he cares for approximately 300 of them, almost half of the world’s population, near here.
“They are directly descended from Sitting Bull’s buffalo horses,” says Kuntz. “They have wonderful, wonderful hooves to carry the body. Good, solid black hooves.”
Kuntz says the Nokota breed made the Plains Indians far superior to the United States cavalry on horseback. Keeping the breed alive was difficult, given the destruction of the animals in the late 1800’s and subsequent mixed breeding.
The original Nokota’s, said Kuntz, were taken from Sitting Bull’s band of Hunkpapa Sioux when Sitting Bull surrendered at Fort Buford in 1881. Many of the horses were later purchased by the Marquis de Mores at Medora with the intention of raising them on a large scale.
At 70 years of age Kuntz is beginning to show the wear and tear of a rugged life and is limited physically in caring for his beloved Nokota horses, a breed that he devoted much of his life to preserving.
“It was always about that. You don’t make money on horses,” said Kuntz. “I want to leave them in good hands. I worry about that a lot.”
Enter Eijaz Khan, a New York filmaker and photographer who is also a well-known and accomplished actor in his home country of India. Khan made a trip to Linton for the specific purpose of photographing the Nokota horse and wound up discovering a much larger project was presented before him.
“I came to Linton as a photographer, not a director,” said Khan. “I’d never seen 300 horses in my life in one place! There was a lot to inspire me. To hear Frank’s life story was very inspiring.”
Khan produced incredible images of Nokota horses, but his experience in North Dakota left him with the feeling that he must do much more beyond his striking images. He determined that he would make a documentary about the Nokota horse and Frank Kuntz and others passionate about the breed. However, he was not at all satisfied with his initial effort.
“I went back to New York and hated what I did and decided to go back to Linton and mix it up, a documentary and a film,” recalled Khan. “I hated what I did the second time as well. After scripting it 100% I went back a third time and still just didn’t like what I got.”
At that point Khan had his doubts about completing the project, one which had already received interest from Netflix. His wife urged him to see the project through to completion.
“I came back a fourth time and that time I got it,” said Khan. “It wasn’t just the horses that inspired me. How could I not tell the story?”
The Nokota story can’t be told without Frank Kuntz, so the Linton rancher, somewhat regrettably but necessarily, was cast in Vanishing Knowledge. No one knows more about the Nokota breed than him.
“I became an actor, not something I wanted to be or ever want to do again,” stated Kuntz bluntly. “One scene I did 62 times.”
“After that he said, okay you guys, get the hell out of here and go back to New York,” laughed Khan. “I don’t blame him. He did a great job. Everybody in North Dakota did a great job. Everybody was amazing.”
Khan’s persistence resulted in capturing further approval for the project from Netflix.
“They (have) been alongside this project. Even after switching from a documentary to a full film, they’ve been very supportive,” stated Kahn. “They like the clips I’ve shown them.”
The end product will introduce the Nokota horse, Frank Kuntz, and others who have worked tirelessly to preserve the breed, and Linton, North Dakota to the world.
“It is worldwide,” said Khan. “Netflix is a worldwide thing.”
The release of Vanishing Knowledge was originally expected to be at the end of April, a date that Khan says is now very unlikely. A better guess, says the director, is sometime in July.
“All the filming is done. We captured everything we needed to capture in February. We’re editing now. Then it’s sound and color and music and titles, about five months if you rush it,” said Kahn.
While Netflix will undoubtedly promote Vanishing Knowledge to their growing audience, Luntz hopes to also have a public screening in North Dakota.
“We’re looking at a premier here, once we get the dates nailed down,” said Kuntz. “We’re hoping to do something at the Heritage Center.”
Vanishing Knowledge is already being billed as a film “inspired by a handful of people who are working to save these horses” and being called “one of the most emotional horse films to watch for all horse lovers around the world.”
More information on the film can be found at vanishingknowledge.com.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to email@example.com.)