Environmental documentary filmmakers Rebecca and Joshua Tickell have turned to narrative moviemaking with their award-winning debut drama, On Sacred Floor, in regards to the Indigenous-led wrestle in opposition to the Dakota Entry Pipeline that slices by way of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. In doing so, the husband-and-wife crew, who additionally co-wrote the screenplay with star William Mapother (of the Misplaced TV sequence), have created the primary characteristic movie that dramatizes the Native motion to forestall the development of pipelines that endanger tribal water and land. Within the course of, On Sacred Floor additionally explores journalistic ethics (or the shortage of those), constitutional legislation and tribal sovereignty, PTSD, police misconduct, the position of allies, and extra.
Within the 114-minute low finances characteristic, Mapother portrays freelance author Daniel McKinney whose spouse Julie (Amy Good) is anticipating their first child. The couple conflict, not solely as a result of Daniel is down on his luck as a journalist, however because of the post-traumatic stress dysfunction that Daniel suffers as an Iraq Conflict fight veteran. Then, apparently from out of the blue, McKinney lands a plum project that may clear up his money move issues: Protecting the anti-DAPL protest circa 2016.
Daniel has been handpicked by Ricky, performed by actress and activist Frances Fisher (of Titanic) and is flown to and put up in North Dakota, the place he’s met by a PR flak for the oil firms, Elliot (David Arquette of the Scream movie franchise). Fisher tells The Progressive by way of e-mail: “Ricky is the editor of a Houston-based conservative newspaper who hires Dan to go write the article and desires him to write down about ‘jobs, cash, significance to the economic system’ and ‘not some pretend information you may get off Fb.’ Ricky is working in collusion with the slick ‘anti-woke’ oil man, Elliot, and there are clearly bigger oil-backed forces influencing them each.”
Their scheme is for the unsuspecting reporter to infiltrate the activists at Standing Rock and file reviews favorable to the oil trade. However plans go awry when Daniel comes face-to-face with the water protectors he’s meant to disparage, and learns firsthand about what they’re preventing for and why. The sequences on the Standing Rock encampment—a makeshift village, if not a nation in embryo—successfully take viewers inside this motion for environmental and Indigenous rights. Non-natives—together with U.S. army veterans repentant over the armed forces’ position in suppressing Indigenous peoples across the globe—be a part of the occupiers. They’re making an attempt to cease building of the pipeline to hold oil—a primary supply of worldwide warming—underneath the Missouri River on Sioux land, the place building was diverted to guard primarily white communities.
Co-directors Joshua and Rebecca Tickell beforehand made documentaries about environmentalism and activism, together with 2008’s Gas and 2011’s Freedom. The Tickells put their nonfiction background to good use within the scenes set on the activists’ Standing Rock encampment, the place Joshua shot on location (his footage is intercut with footage lensed by different filmmakers there, in addition to with materials filmed in studios or units). On Sacred Floor has received awards at New York Worldwide Movies Infest Pageant and the Mesa Movie Pageant for Greatest Narrative Function.
When the down-at-his-heels Daniel realizes he’s getting used as a propaganda instrument for Massive Oil, what’s going to he do? Greedy that his credibility as a member of the press is his most beneficial asset, will Daniel promote his soul in a Faustian cut price with Massive Oil—or will he inform the reality in regards to the anti-pipeline resisters?
By zooming in on Daniel’s private story, On Sacred Floor has much less display screen time to give attention to and really even distracts from the Indigenous characters and their wrestle.
Mariel Hemingway (granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway) who was Oscar-nominated for her debut position in 1979’s Manhattan, additionally has a small position in On Sacred Floor. However most notably, the forged consists of numerous Indigenous expertise, similar to Inupiaq, Yup’ik, and Cree actress Irene Bedard, who performs Mary Singing Crow and was the voice of Pocahontas in Disney’s 1995 animated film of that identify. Enrolled Oglala Sioux tribal member Kerry Knuppe from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota depicts Mika and her credit embrace Netflix’s Ratched sequence. David Midthunder of Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation portrays Terry and has appeared within the PBS Darkish Winds sequence primarily based on Tony Hillerman’s novels about Navajo tribal police. Marshall Dancing Elk Lucas of the Notoweega Nation portrays Chief Dancing Falcon and has been in lots of productions, together with Terrence Malick’s The New World and PBS’s Jamestown TV sequence. Navajo actor/activist Che Jim is Akicita in On Sacred Floor.
Nonetheless, the issue with the characteristic is that predominant protagonist Daniel is white, as is the character given the second-most display screen time, the conniving Elliot. At a Beverly Hills screening of On Sacred Floor through the Crimson Nation Movie Pageant in November (the place it obtained 4 nominations within the Greatest Image, Directing, Actor, and Actress classes), Joshua Tickell advised the viewers, which included forged and crew members similar to Bedard, that he had considerations about telling this story as a result of he’s a white man.
However Tickell didn’t let this cease him from making a film which commits considered one of Hollywood’s greatest recurring cinematic sins of illustration: making the lead character white in a narrative about—or that ought to be about—non-white individuals. This can be a quite common trope in Western filmmaking—even when the white protagonist goes removed from “civilization,” he’s nonetheless the story’s central determine. In the meantime, native individuals the place the motion takes place are diminished to an unique backdrop for the derring-do of the white stars, who’re the massive field workplace points of interest.
Contemplate who the leads are in Britain and Tinseltown’s most well-known motion pictures in regards to the Center East and Africa? The protagonists of each Lawrence of Arabia and Tarzan usually are not Arabs or Africans however white Englishmen, simply as Kevin Costner—not Comanche—is the hero in Dances with Wolves.
As its title signifies, On Sacred Floor perpetuates one other ethno-trope: that by way of his encounters with non-white individuals, a troubled white man has a mystical expertise that results in his changing into ennobled, even enlightened. Consider James Hilton and Somerset Maugham’s novels Misplaced Horizon and The Razor’s Edge, which have been became Hollywood motion pictures that featured this celluloid stereotype. Equally, Daniel’s journey with Native People seemingly resolves his PTSD and marital issues; his spouse’s being pregnant symbolizes a rebirth.
This misstep within the story’s framing is noteworthy contemplating the latest upswell in Indigenous-led Hollywood initiatives, together with critically acclaimed hits like FX’s Reservation Canines and Peacock’s Rutherford Falls. It’s a recalibration Hollywood remains to be making. Irene Bedard—a gifted artist whose in depth credit past mega-hit Pocahontas embrace 1994’s South Dakota-set Lakota Girl: Siege at Wounded Knee and 1998’s cult favourite Smoke Alerts—presently performs a supporting position in ABC’s Alaska Day by day, about journalists investigating lacking and murdered Indigenous ladies, which stars Hilary Swank.
That’s to not say that the Daniel character shouldn’t have been within the film in any respect—the Tiskells primarily based his storyline on precise vets, white and in any other case, who did go to Standing Rock and help the trigger. Veterans affected by PTSD are actually a worthy storyline. Nonetheless, a white character shouldn’t be the protagonist in a narrative purportedly about Indigenous individuals in a script that isn’t autobiographical (Mapother by no means served within the U.S. army).
By zooming in on Daniel’s private story, On Sacred Floor has much less display screen time to give attention to and really even distracts from the Indigenous characters and their wrestle. By doing so, On Sacred Floor is essentially a missed alternative, though to be honest it does increase the profile of the anti-pipeline motion. An Indigenous-centered dramatization of the Standing Rock resistance stays to be made. Within the meantime, the Keystone XL pipeline leaked roughly 600,000 gallons of oil in Kansas in December 2022.
On Sacred Floor could be watched on demand and opens in choose theaters on January 13.