Austin Film Festival 2018 Review/Interview: HALTER OFF

Jake Bulgarino and James Young present “Halter Off” Doc Short


By Liz Lopez

The 25th Austin Film Festival (AFF) is well underway since this past Thursday and “Halter Off,” an all-new short documentary focused on the world of horse racing, is making its Texas Premiere at this year’s festival. Filmmaker Jake Bulgarino’s award-winning short documentary, will be screened twice at the festival and is one film to watch, whether you are a fan of horse racing or not. The documentary is not so much about the sport, but about one man’s journey to “make it” when the odds are not especially in his favor. The story is engaging and the cinematography captures what the horse racing world looks like from various points of view – the fan, the horses and those who love the sport and what it means to them. 

Filmed in Charles Town, West Virginia, “Halter Off” won Best Documentary at this year’s Atlanta Shortsfest.



Far removed from the pomp and pageantry of races like the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Halter Off offers an extended look at the underbelly of horse racing in Charles Town, West Virginia. There, veteran trainer Angelo Jackson competes not for fame, or prestige, or glory, but as a means of survival. At a severe financial disadvantage in a rich man’s sport, Angelo grinds out wins with the horses discarded by other owners and trainers, relying on his prowess and instinct to succeed. However, when his checkered past sees him banned from the grounds of the track, and facing the biggest race of his life against his longtime rival and mentor looming just weeks away, Angelo is under the gun. He looks to Halter Off, the first horse he’s raised on his own, to win a race that will do more than bring his books into the black: it will define his career.

The screenings at the AFF are as follows:

Screening 1- 10/27/2018 – 1:30 PM Rollins Theatre

Screening 2 – 10/30/2018 6:30 PM Hideout Theatre


Q – Is this your first time as a director?

JB – Yes, I co-directed it with James Young and yes, it is my first documentary as a director. It is a great experience and something I enjoyed; both the process of filming and then the post production to find the story through massive footage. Having found Angelo and the story has been both rewarding and personal.

Q – Is there any challenge you would mention about your experience with this production?

JB – There is a long list that I can site! Some challenges are from the technical side, for example, how to capture it. One takeaway is when you are with your subject, get as much as you can in the can! Also, we tried to do this with bells and whistles; but it took us away from getting content. Filming on location in the horse barn with lots of horses – we went in with contraptions and this can make the horses get “spooked.” Learned this – keep it simple.

Q – Do you plan to make this short into a feature?

JB – No. We quickly learned from going in with specific ideas. We went in and then found the scope of the film was larger. We will leave it right where it is, as it lives best as a short.

Q – How did you find out about Angelo’s story?

JB – I randomly ran into him. I was location scouting and saw an antiquated barn (not knowing it was Angelo’s). I took my camera to the barn to ask if I could shoot. At first he was not happy that I “moseyed” in. At first he yelled at me and then after a few minutes, we talked for about an hour. He told me his story about what he wanted to do. I offered to capture it and he was keen to it.

What is also really funny – my Dad and Granddad were horse trainers. I grew up around horses, and I connected so quickly because I understood parts of it. Once I told him, we were like two peas in a pod. It definitely helped. As with any character, I have to present myself with authenticity and be vulnerable. A trusting relationship has to be there. The character I document (evolves) and we begin to be friends and then like family, during the filming and post –production.

Jake added: His story is like one of many. We shed light on ways of life that are not known to the general public. He is doing well and super proud of him.

Sources: Eastward Films and Austin Film Festival

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