Incident at Oglala (1992)

PG | 86 mins | Documentary | 8 May 1992

Full page view
HISTORY

The controversial incarceration of Native American political activist Leonard Peltier, who was accused of the 26 Jun 1975 killings of two Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) agents on the SD Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was first considered as the subject of a feature film in the early 1980s, when writer Peter Matthiessen published an account of the trial titled In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983). Around that time, Robert Redford, a longtime advocate of Native American civil rights, met with Matthiessen to discuss optioning the screen rights to In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which he wanted to adapt into a fictional narrative. According to a 4 May 1992 NYT article, Matthiessen told Redford that Peltier’s life was at risk at Leavenworth Prison, and the actor believed he might be able to use his celebrity status to prevent an attack. Although Redford remained uncommitted to making a film about Peltier, he felt responsible for his welfare, and arranged a personal interview under the guise of research for the picture, hoping it would help “back people off from wasting him… that was the whole agenda.” After speaking with Peltier, however, Redford was determined to bring his story to mass audiences as a motion picture. In a 20 Jan 1992 DV article, Redford stated that he “had no position as to his [Peltier’s] guilt or innocence,” but “felt sure he was railroaded,” and hoped the film would prompt public demand for a new, fair trial. Redford was concerned that Peltier had been overlooked; he told the Jun 1992 edition of Pulse! that he had been ... More Less

The controversial incarceration of Native American political activist Leonard Peltier, who was accused of the 26 Jun 1975 killings of two Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) agents on the SD Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was first considered as the subject of a feature film in the early 1980s, when writer Peter Matthiessen published an account of the trial titled In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983). Around that time, Robert Redford, a longtime advocate of Native American civil rights, met with Matthiessen to discuss optioning the screen rights to In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which he wanted to adapt into a fictional narrative. According to a 4 May 1992 NYT article, Matthiessen told Redford that Peltier’s life was at risk at Leavenworth Prison, and the actor believed he might be able to use his celebrity status to prevent an attack. Although Redford remained uncommitted to making a film about Peltier, he felt responsible for his welfare, and arranged a personal interview under the guise of research for the picture, hoping it would help “back people off from wasting him… that was the whole agenda.” After speaking with Peltier, however, Redford was determined to bring his story to mass audiences as a motion picture. In a 20 Jan 1992 DV article, Redford stated that he “had no position as to his [Peltier’s] guilt or innocence,” but “felt sure he was railroaded,” and hoped the film would prompt public demand for a new, fair trial. Redford was concerned that Peltier had been overlooked; he told the Jun 1992 edition of Pulse! that he had been one of Peltier’s first visitors since his imprisonment in 1977.
       The 1983 publication of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse was met with multi-million dollar libel lawsuits from several contributors, including FBI agent David Price and the former SD Attorney General William “Bill” Janklow. Although controversy kept the book “out of circulation” for nearly a decade, as stated in Pulse!, it sparked new attention in the media, and the Peltier case was back in the news. Since filmmaker Oliver Stone was competing for film rights at that time, Redford decided to change course and pursue the story as a documentary. He recruited British director Michael Apted, who was so taken with Peltier that he filmed another picture based on the case, Thunderheart (1992, see entry).
       As noted in the 20 Jan 1992 DV, the production was met with antagonism from both Native Americans, who were initially mistrustful of the filmmakers, and the U.S. government, which did not want to expose the trial’s inconsistencies. Despite setbacks, Apted began filming in late fall 1990, as reported in a 1 Nov 1990 DV news item that stated the director was currently filming in Rapid City, SD. The picture was financed for $2 million by Carolco Pictures and its subsidiary, Seven Arts, as part of Carolco’s three-picture deal with Redford, which included The Dark Wind (1991), a film that was not initially released in the U.S., and A River Runs Through It (1992, see entry).
       The documentary made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on 19 Jan 1992, introduced by Robert Redford, who was a festival chairman. Nearly two weeks later, the Miramax Film Corp. acquired distribution rights, as announced in a 30 Jan 1992 DV article. The picture was initially scheduled for release by Seven Arts, but the company recently went bankrupt, and Miramax was committed to placing the film in at least 100 domestic markets throughout 1992. A Mar 1992 opening was planned for Washington, D.C., to coincide with “the quincentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in North America,” as stated in a 31 Jan 1992 DV article. In addition, the filmmakers hoped the release would prompt election-year debate, and “spur the Bush Administration into action on a long-standing application for executive clemency filed on behalf of Peltier.”
       Incident at Oglala was praised by reviewers, many of whom compared it to Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line (1988, see entry), a Miramax release which helped free death row inmate Randall Dale Adams.
       End credits acknowledge: “Additional footage courtesy of: State Historical Society of Bismark, North Dakota; State Historical Society of Iowa; South Dakota State Historical Society; KELO TV; Lan Brookes Ritz; The Forum, Nick Carlson; Rapid City Journal; Cedar Rapids Gazette; The Washington Post; Canadian Broadcasting Company, Vancouver, Canada; Canadian Broadcasting Company, Toronto, Canada; NBC News Archives; CBS News Archives; Sherman Grinberg Library; Kevin Barry McKiernan; Goon Squad, American Indian Movement; photos: shoot-out at Oglala, Anna Mae Aquash, Dick Wilson”; and, “Special thanks to: Irwin Young; Joe Monge; Richard Skeete; Arthur Nalven; Eugenia Morrison; Greg Ayvas; Martin Saldamando; Paul Killian; Bob Quinn; David Johnson; Paulette D’Auteuil; David Leveen; Bob Summers; Thelma Hess; Justin Ackerman; Ward Churchill; Jim Vander Wall; Peter Matthiessen; Ellen Tolleson; Diana Chu; Toni Peacock; Mike Miller; Neil Waldman; Patti Leggio; Ray Santiseban; Caroline Beasley Baker; Neil Seiling; Herman Jaffe; Jim Wargowsky; Calvin Jumping Bull, Martin Fink; and the People of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jan 1992
p. 22.
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1992
p. 3, 32.
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 1992
p. 5, 12.
Los Angeles Times
8 May 1992
p. 1.
New York Times
4 May 1992
Section C, pp. 1-12.
New York Times
8 May 1992
p. 15.
Pulse!
Jun 1992
p. 92.
Variety
2 Feb 1992
p. 80.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Addl photog
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Addl ed
Apprentice ed
Negative matching
MUSIC
Mus consultant
Mus consultant
Native American singing
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Musician
Addl synth score
Addl synth score
Score rec & mixed by
Addl mus
Addl mus
SOUND
Audio facility
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Audio consultant
Addl sd
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals and titles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Reservation footage provided by
Spanish Fork Productions
Spanish Fork Productions
Spanish Fork Productions
Spanish Fork Productions
Spanish Fork Productions
Chief researcher
Chief researcher
Addl research
Addl research
Addl research
Asst to Mr. Apted
Asst to Mr. Chobanian
Asst to Mr. Redford
Rapid City prod liaison
Post prod consultant
Accounting
Off-line post prod facility
Prod legal services
Financial services provided by
Completion bond
ANIMATION
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by, Timer
SOURCES
SONGS
“Out Of The Blues,” written and performed by John Trudell, Mark Shark, Quiltman, The Peace Company/Schatzkamer Publishing/Quiltman Music
“Rich Man’s War,” written and performed by Jesse Ed David & John Trudell, The Peace Company/Washita Music
“Sunrise,” written by John Trudell, Mark Shark, Quiltman, The Peace Company/Schatzkamer Publishing/Quiltman Music, performed by Quiltman & Mark Shark
+
SONGS
“Out Of The Blues,” written and performed by John Trudell, Mark Shark, Quiltman, The Peace Company/Schatzkamer Publishing/Quiltman Music
“Rich Man’s War,” written and performed by Jesse Ed David & John Trudell, The Peace Company/Washita Music
“Sunrise,” written by John Trudell, Mark Shark, Quiltman, The Peace Company/Schatzkamer Publishing/Quiltman Music, performed by Quiltman & Mark Shark
“Wounded Knee,” written by Floyd Westerman, Red Cloud Music, performed by Quiltman
“The Aim Song,” performed by Quiltman
“Butler Honoring Song,” performed by Quiltman & Mark Shark.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 May 1992
Premiere Information:
World premiere at the Sundance Film Festival: 19 January 1992
Los Angeles and New York openings: 8 May 1992
Production Date:
began late fall 1990
Copyright Claimant:
Carolco International, N.V. & North Face Motion Picture Company
Copyright Date:
18 May 1992
Copyright Number:
PA578870
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
86
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31411
SYNOPSIS

On 26 June 1975, two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, were shot to death at the Lakota Native American Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They had a warrant for the arrest of Jimmy Eagle, a teenaged member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who was suspected of stealing cowboy boots. AIM, which had a mission to preserve traditional cultures, was headquartered at the remote “Jumping Bull” complex of campsites in Pine Ridge, and was engaged in a violent conflict with a powerful, pro-government faction of Indians called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON). Its leader, Dick Wilson, commandeered so-called “GOON squads” to intimidate presumed AIM supporters, and, as a result, Pine Ridge had the highest murder rate in the U.S., as well as the poorest living conditions. It was believed that Wilson was siphoning government funds for his own gain, and the locals were buckling under his oppression. In protest, AIM conducted confrontational standoffs, including a seventy-one day occupation of Wounded Knee. The U.S. government identified the activists as dangerous subversives, and countered the movement with an uptick in military and FBI surveillance. On the day Williams and Coler went to Jumping Bull, tension between Indians and their regulators was high, and the agents were ambushed with gunfire. Backup units arrived, and Native American Joe Stutz was killed by police in the shootout. Although the remaining AIM members escaped, three men were later identified as murder suspects: Darrelle “Dino” Butler, Robert Robideau, and Leonard Peltier. While Butler and Robideau were tried and acquitted for self-defense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Peltier had ... +


On 26 June 1975, two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, were shot to death at the Lakota Native American Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They had a warrant for the arrest of Jimmy Eagle, a teenaged member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who was suspected of stealing cowboy boots. AIM, which had a mission to preserve traditional cultures, was headquartered at the remote “Jumping Bull” complex of campsites in Pine Ridge, and was engaged in a violent conflict with a powerful, pro-government faction of Indians called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON). Its leader, Dick Wilson, commandeered so-called “GOON squads” to intimidate presumed AIM supporters, and, as a result, Pine Ridge had the highest murder rate in the U.S., as well as the poorest living conditions. It was believed that Wilson was siphoning government funds for his own gain, and the locals were buckling under his oppression. In protest, AIM conducted confrontational standoffs, including a seventy-one day occupation of Wounded Knee. The U.S. government identified the activists as dangerous subversives, and countered the movement with an uptick in military and FBI surveillance. On the day Williams and Coler went to Jumping Bull, tension between Indians and their regulators was high, and the agents were ambushed with gunfire. Backup units arrived, and Native American Joe Stutz was killed by police in the shootout. Although the remaining AIM members escaped, three men were later identified as murder suspects: Darrelle “Dino” Butler, Robert Robideau, and Leonard Peltier. While Butler and Robideau were tried and acquitted for self-defense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Peltier had sought refuge in Canada, and was extradited back to the U.S. for a separate trial in Fargo, North Dakota. There, he was convicted of murder and received two consecutive life sentences. The evidence presented in Peltier’s trial differed from the Butler-Robideau case, such as the inclusion of crime scene and autopsy photographs, and the incendiary argument that the wounded agents were shot at close range. In addition, a mentally unstable woman named Myrtle Poor Bear signed an affidavit, telling the FBI that she was Peltier’s girl friend, and that she had witnessed the murders. However, she later reported that the FBI forced her confession by threatening the life of her daughter. Poor Bear was not at Jumping Bull at the time of the killings, and did not know Peltier, but her false affidavit justified his extradition from Canada, and restored the government’s confidence that they could finally close the case, with Peltier’s conviction. During the trial, the prosecution presented evidence and allegations that were later proven questionable, and witnesses recanted. Peltier has been consistently denied parole since his imprisonment in 1977, despite new proof that the murder weapon and automobile attributed to him were falsely represented. In 1989, a man who identified himself as “Mr. X” confessed to the killings, reporting that he did not intend to kill the agents, but they raised their weapons, and he fired in perceived self-defense. Peltier knows the true name of “Mr. X,” but refuses to reveal his identity because revenge and spite are not consistent with his Native American spiritual beliefs. His next chance for parole is in 2035. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.