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The true story and Neo-Western biopic of Leo Kuntz, Vietnam vet turned North Dakota horse rancher and his fight to save the equine legacy of Sitting Bull in the inexorable face and juggernaut assault of the 21st Century.


Sean Garland


Sean Garland



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NokotaHeart is the true story of Leo Kuntz, Vietnam vet turned North Dakota horse rancher and his fight to save the equine legacy of Sitting Bull. Told in Leo's inimitable campfire tone this is a unfussy, straight-from-the-gut tale of personal woe and hard-won passion, a Neo-Western biopic of private tragedy and spiritual triumph, as much about the man himself and the spiritual imprint of the land on his person as it is about the legendary horses of the great Indian chief. Leo's humbling nature and plaintive, maverick soul is a world removed from the new equine laws and State bills passed by U.S. government. In the cold, unyielding onslaught of the 21st Century his virtual 19th Century existence has been blindsided by punishing economic climes and a vanishing American frontier. Intimate and raw, elegiac and ardent, NokotaHeart dares to tell it like it is, burnished heart in hardscrabble soil. Suffused through the prism of an Irish filmmaker thousands of miles from home in North Dakota... Written by Thomas Lead

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Release Date:

2011 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

North Dakota, USA

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Color (HD-cam)
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Did You Know?


Although shot out on the Great Plains of North and South Dakota. "NokotaHeart" is directed by an Irishman, Sean Garland. See more »


Single Girl, Married Girl
Written by The Carter Family
Performed by PRISON LOVE
Copyright The Carter Family 1928
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User Reviews

A stunning "campfire tale"
27 July 2011 | by SabineSchmidtSee all my reviews

Nokota Heart is the story about a dying pocket of American culture, lovingly shot by Irish director Sean Garland. The film tells the unique story of rancher Leo Kuntz - Vietnam vet, grizzled frontiersman, and breeder of soon-to-be-extinct Nokota horses, rode by Leo's idol Sitting Bull. The preservation of these amazing creatures has constantly been under threat since the early 1900s in Midwestern states, until brothers Leo and Frank Kuntz began purchasing horses in the late '70s and set up a foundation to protect them.

As an American (admittedly not from the Midwest but the suburban jungles of New York), Nokota Heart was a very intriguing and often heart-rending portrait of a part of the culture that I was not initially aware of. Although Leo is an inimitable subject whose no-sh*t one-liners are humorous and down-homey, you can tell that under his calm, gruff exterior is a man deeply saddened by the gradual passing of an era. Something that really stayed with me was Leo's story about how the Native American population in North Dakota are slowly becoming modernised and losing interest with the horses tamed by their ancestors in the 1800s.

Unfortunately, I think one of Leo's friends summed it up best by saying that the Kuntzes are trying to preserve something that has become irrelevant. In our modern age of smart phones, on demand TV and instant access technology, it's sad to think that people like Leo and all of the things he has worked so hard for are gradually fading away.

The film has some incredible shots of the North Dakota badlands, herds of horses thunderously pounding through the fields, and also some fantastic, unintentionally (?) surreal moments, such as when a group of Nokotas all stand peering into the camera lens simultaneously, eerily calm and still in the Midwestern sunset. A beautifully made campfire tale of a fading way of life.

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