‘Lakota Nation vs. United States’ Review – The Hollywood Reporter

Lakota Nation vs. United States is a visually dynamic documentary, and it’s also a documentary that delves into the power of language and how we use it. There are the voices of the interview subjects – sensitive, piercing, angsty, hopeful – chronicling a generations-long fight for justice that goes to the heart of American history and yet is barely discussed in theaters. of class. (Have you ever heard of the Dakota 38?) There’s the legalese of the treaties the US government signed with the tribes of the Great Plains and violated before the ink dried – or as soon as gold was discovered on a designated Indian territory.

Filmmakers’ interest in language is omnipresent Lakota Nation, most exquisite in its use of poetry as storytelling, with poet extraordinaire, Layli Long Soldier, reading excerpts from her work on screen and in voiceover. She and a sizable chorus of interviewees explore the impact of what we choose to call things. Most of them are members of the Lakota or Dakota nation, the two main subcultures of the Očéti Šakówiŋ – a name few Americans know, long since replaced by “Sioux”. Their languages ​​were banned, along with their religion and rituals, while a mythology of the West became official history, characterizing the invasion by European settlers as self-defense and an assault on peoples’ resistance. indigenous.

Lakota Nation vs. United States

The essential

An urgent and lyrical corrective to the official story.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (documentary competition)
Directors: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli
Screenwriters: Layli Long Soldier, Benjamin Hedin, Laura Tomaselli

2 hours 1 minute

Investigating a “muddy trail” of lies and atrocities, the words and voices of Long Soldier, and those of the authors and activists who appear in the doc, offer a powerful counter-narrative to the one that most Non-Native Americans have learned, revealing a tireless struggle that began centuries ago with the arrival of colonizers on the continent.

At the helm of the film, Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli (editor of MLK/FBI) intertwine DP Kevin Phillips’ vibrant, sublime images of the natural world with the surreal Americana of tourist attractions where Custer’s Last Stand is re-enacted. The directors oscillate between intimate commentary and a sharp curation of TV news clips, cartoons full of cowboy and Indian stereotypes and Hollywood-style historical dramas. There’s a deliberate rhythm to Tomaselli’s editing that’s in tune with Long Soldier’s measured readings, as is Raven Chacon’s versatile and subtle score, sometimes propulsive, sometimes Satie-esque.

Lakota Nation vs. United States is divided into three sections, the first and longest being “Extermination”, which examines the collision of cultures that began with the arrival of Europeans: the battles and peace treaties, the double crosses of the United States. Part two, “Assimilation,” is the most poignant, a look at the day-to-day and long-term ramifications of genocidal policies that stripped the Lakota of their land, horses, and weapons. In the name of American private property capitalism and colonialist paternalism, the so-called savages were “civilized” by dividing up their communal lands – and selling most of them to non-Native settlers. They were forced into economic dependence and Christianity and, most horribly, their children were removed and placed in abusive boarding schools in order to purge them of their identity, a practice also inflicted on the indigenous people of Australia and Canada.

Short Bull and Tomaselli include photographs of children in boarding schools that haunt, even in the rare cases where the child smiles. A few interviewees speak movingly of the effect of residential schools on their parents. Eventually, Lakota and other Native Americans were relegated to reservations and could not venture beyond their boundaries without a pass – comparable to the restrictions imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank.

As for how Hollywood enhanced a one-sided interpretation of America’s nation-building enterprise, the vaults contain enough material to fill a documentary series or two. The clips chosen here pack a punch, whether the film in question is an unsurprising choice (West Custer, Researchers) or less obvious. Marveling at the beauty of the North American terrain, Doris Day’s Calamity Jane says, “No wonder the Injuns are fighting so fiercely to hold on to this country. An excerpt from Daniel Day-Lewis in Spielberg’s lincoln illustrates a point in “38” from Long Soldier, one of two poems from the film.

The 16th President is portrayed as a brave seeker of truth as the Emancipation Proclamation approaches. But there is no mention in the 2012 film, let alone the school curriculum, that days after this event, Lincoln ordered the execution by hanging of 38 Dakota men, the largest legal execution in history. American, as punishment for their actions in the United States. Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising. The documentary does not go into detail; his point is that this major event has been pushed into the shadows, its significance denied, without even noting a mention in a two-and-a-half-hour news report on the precise time period in which it occurred.

By analyzing the history we have been fed and the Lakota legacy of countless betrayals, Lakota Nation is a portrait of a brutal rift between a people and the land they see as a life-giving parent – especially the sacred Black Hills they call He Sapa. This is why the Očéti Šakówiŋs rejected the money awarded to them in a 1980 Supreme Court decision. And this is why Mount Rushmore, generally hailed as a feat of engineering and art, has a very different meaning to them. Not only does it celebrate four leaders who were instrumental in driving Native Americans off their lands, but it’s also carved into a sacred mountain that the Lakota call the Six Grandfathers.

The documentary’s final section, “Reparations,” focusing on the Landback movement and environmental activism, offers a sense of optimism and highlights the resilience of the Lakota, from Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to modern-day Warriors for Justice. Regarding opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, he recognizes the importance of allies and coalitions. Speaking of allies, the involvement of Mark Ruffalo and Marisa Tomei as executive producers should help propel the film forward, but regardless, Short Bull and Tomaselli made for a moving and timely review. At its heart is a question that could apply to much of human history, but which burns with particular intensity in the history of the United States: why must the push for “progress” rest on so much fear – a need to harness, subjugate, silence and suppress that which is not understood – rather than an open-hearted curiosity to understand and connect?

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