Before he traveled from Paris to Philadelphia, filmmaker Mohamed Bourouissa thought cowboys were like John Wayne or the Marlboro Man, i.e. they were white.
“Black people riding horse is very traditional. It’s a big part of the history of the riders,” said Bourouissa, after spending six months at the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in North Philadelphia. “But the image — what you see is the Hollywood guys. The Marlboro cowboy, this is the image cowboy, you know?”
That Hollywood image of the American cowboy changed with his introduction to the club where members such as Caleb Carter learn how to rid and care for horses.
“I’ve been riding horses since I was 3,” said Carter. “I’ve always been into westerns, but the first thing that pops into my head is us, riding out the street.”
The nonprofit club caters to teens and young men in the mostly African-American, mostly poor North Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding Fletcher Street. Some members own their own animals.
Their regular rides on the streets of North Philadelphia — passing boarded-up housing and dilapidated manufacturing plants — always attract attention.
In 2006, photographer Martha Camarillo published a book about the club, and began making a documentary film which never materialized.
In 2012, it was the subject of a music video for “Feel the Love,” a hit UK song by the British band Rudimental. That same year, French filmmaker Jordan Feldman made a short documentary about the club, “Les Cavaliers de Fletcher Street.”
Now Bourouissa is shooting his own quasi-documentary film project. “I prefer to call it an art project, than a movie,” said Bourouissa. “I make a fiction on reality.”
For his film, Bourouissa has created an event where the riders can show off equestrian skills. Calling it a “horse tuning,” he will be filming his own event Sunday afternoon. The riders of Fletcher Street will be paired with artists, who will create a visual or musical element, for the horses and riders maneuvering through an obstacle course.
Jamil Peretteis will be accompanied by guitar-playing Calvin Okunoye performing a gaucho-style acoustic instrumental. If all goes as planned, the sound of the horse’s hooves will be in sync with the rhythm of the music.
“I like riding stuff that go fast, and jump,” said Peretteis, 26, who started riding at 13. “The horse — it change your life. When I started riding a horse, I thought I ain’t never going to stop doing this.”
After the obstacle course, the riders will play a perennial favorite: pony tag.
The “horse tuning” event will take place on Fletcher Field, where the club used to have its stables. In 2008, the city bulldozed them, clearing the entire city block. The razing devastated the club, and the riders have been trying to raise funds to buy another vacant lot on Fletcher Street to build new stables as a home base.