Documentary featuring Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy students and wild mustangs premieres at Lookout Wild Film Festival

Sue Anne Wells, co-founder of the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, attended the EQUUS Film Festival in November 2017, with four CGLA students who were featured in the documentary, When the Dust Settles. (Contributed photo)

This weekend's Lookout Wild Film Festival features a wide array of films, but one in particular - "When the Dust Settles" - has a special connection to Chattanooga.

It's about girls and horses, but really it's about so much more than that.

When Sue Anne Wells co-founded the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy in 2009, an all-girls public charter school located in the Highland Park neighborhood, the school staff held an orientation at Wells' family farm.

Wells' farm also happens to be the home to wild American mustangs, rescued and brought to Chattanooga from the western United States.

"My idea was to connect these girls to the wild horses thinking the mustangs were just as unsure as the girls were," Wells said. "The bonding and relationship building between the girls and the mustangs was incredible."

The film, shot and directed by Glenn Sweitzer and Dave Molesworth, features the Mustang Leadership Partners program, which formed out of those first interactions between the girls and the horses. It shows the parallel struggles and triumphs of mustangs and traditionally underserved girls, according to a description of the film in a news release.


› What: Lookout Wild Film Festival› Where: Walker Theatre in Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.› When: Saturday, Jan. 20, 2-5:30 p.m. When the Dust Settles premieres at 3 p.m.› Admission: $12.50 individual sessions, $30 weekend pass› For more info: 423-757-5580

"The mustang is a part of our heritage and embodies the American spirit," Wells said. "There is a majestic quality about mustangs that is hard to put into words they are survivors and can teach us all important life lessons."

Work on the film started in 2015 and followed the experiences the girls have each week with the mustangs.

Once a week, a group of girls travels from inner-city Chattanooga to Wells' farm and help care for, train, ride and learn about the horses.

The program is even a part of the curriculum - the students learn about equine anatomy, give injections to the horses and, if a mare is pregnant, learn about pregnancy and delivery, according to Wells.

Many of the program's participants had never interacted with a horse or been in a farm setting before, Wells said.

"These mustangs really force them to be assertive," she added.

The film debuted at the EQUUS Film Festival in New York City in November 2017. It was awarded best feature length documentary.

Wells, CGLA's Executive Director Elaine Swafford and several students attended the film festival. They will also attend the film's hometown premiere today.

"When the Dust Settles" is part of the Lookout Wild Film Festival, a four-day event featuring 79 films. It will premiere at 3 p.m. today at the Memorial Auditorium.

CGLA was founded in 2009 as the first all-girls charter school in Tennessee. It serves primarily minority girls in grades 6-12. The school soon will partner with an all-boys preparatory school set to open its door this fall.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.