Filmmaker Clare McKay, left, stands with her sister Anna Pozzi and nephew Angelo. Behind them, a giant poster board features notes and a timeline of McKay’s upcoming documentary “Living an American Dream.” (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

NYSSA – Filmmaker Clare McKay has told the story countless times. But never like this.

McKay is one of six siblings, none related by blood, adopted as infants in the 1990s from Haiti.

They grew up on a ranch in Juntura with their parents Joyce and Joe McKay, surrounded by ranching and rodeo.

Now McKay, 26, is taking the story of her family and their Western way of life to the screen with her first documentary, “Living an American Dream.”

McKay will give a talk and present the film trailer at the Malheur Country Historical Society meeting at noon Thursday, Feb. 13. The presentation will be in Room 110 of the Weese Building on the Treasure Valley Community College campus in Ontario.

Growing up, McKay said she and her siblings stood out.

“We didn’t go anywhere where people didn’t notice us,” she said.

But at home, they didn’t feel different from anyone else. The siblings were on horseback by the time they were in Pull-Ups. Their parents ensured that they were immersed in the ranch while celebrating their identity.

They grew up celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day each year.

“It was like Christmas,” said Anna Pozzi, McKay’s younger sister.

Their mother would bake a Devil’s food cake studded with M&Ms for the occasion, the sisters recalled as they sat on the floor of McKay’s living room in Vale on a recent Tuesday.

They felt welcomed by the community and didn’t see their presence as extraordinary.

So when a friend suggested McKay focus her filmmaking on her family’s unique story, she brushed off the idea.

It wasn’t until McKay’s brother Luke, a rodeo athlete, asked her for a sizzle reel – a short promotional video – that the idea for the documentary began to blossom.

But the film goes way beyond McKay’s own family.

“It morphed into this documentary about the entire culture of ranching, rodeo and how it all comes together,” she said.

McKay wrapped up shooting in December. She spent a year planning the film on paper. A wall-to-wall sheet inside her home is covered in sticky notes and depicts a timeline of the documentary. The film is expected to debut in the fall.

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She debuted the trailer – a promotional excerpt – on Jan. 31 at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. The annual event features cowboys from the U.S., Canada and Australia. This year’s gathering honored the contributions of black cowboys.

“This has been my baby for the past two and a half years,” she said, gazing at the small notes she scribbled for herself.

“I talked to a lot of people before I picked up the camera,” McKay said. She interviewed 13 people, including family and friends.

She said one of her goals with the film is to crush misconceptions about rodeo and ranching.

“It’s not an easy life,” she said. “It’s not a rich life monetarily.”

Anna Pozzi and Gabe McKay, both siblings of filmmaker Clare McKay, appear in the documentary “Living an American Dream.” The film is expected to debut in the fall. (Film still courtesy of Clare McKay)

She wants to debunk the stereotype that ranchers don’t take care of the land and that rodeo neglects animals.

“As ranchers, we have to be stewards of this land,” she said. The wellbeing of animals is inextricably linked to the livelihood of both ranchers and rodeo athletes, she adds.

McKay is passionate about the subject. She’s a cowgirl at heart. When she moved to California in her early 20s to study acting, she wore her cowgirl boots and Wranglers for months until the heat beat her pride.

Ranching is a family affair for the McKays. So is rodeo. Two of McKay’s brothers, Luke and Gabe, are bronc riders. Anna is a rancher. As the sisters talk in McKay’s living room, Anna’s infant son Angelo waddles all over the carpeted floor – a pair of babies’ cowboy boots in his grip.

But for McKay, the ranch was not her calling. She realized that she’d rather wake up at 3 a.m. to work on a movie set than to go check on cows. It took her a long time to admit that to herself. And to her father.

“I wanted so badly to be a rancher for him,” McKay said.

Now she’s ok with joking about herself as the “starving artist” in the family.

Her interest in films started at an early age. She grew up acting in school and college plays. She knew she wanted to be on camera; but in acting school, she found herself drawn to the work behind the scenes.

As for her father, not only did he support her, she said he showed his creative chops during filming. The movie’s trailer ends with a shot that Joe directed – him on his horse with the sun blazing behind him. 

“I’m trying to get people to understand that you don’t all have to be living the same American dream,” McKay reflected. The film’s title is intentional. She’s not calling on people to pursue “the American dream” but rather, an American dream.

McKay’s dream?

To be a director.

She and Anna are working on original music for the documentary. Anna plays guitar and composes Western songs, while McKay said her own lyrics are more modern.

For now her goal is to get the word out by speaking at as many places as possible. She’s also looking to raise funds for the film. By using her own equipment and working with friends and family who volunteered their time, McKay managed to film the documentary for less than $2,000. But she’ll need more funds now that the film is in its post-production phase.

McKay said the end of her film is directed mostly at young people.

It’s a call to action to get them to chase their dreams. It doesn’t matter if you fail a couple times or switch direction, she said, her film begs viewers to ask themselves: “How bad you want it?”

To watch a trailer for the film visit www.anamericandreamfilm.com.

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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