Thunderheart (1992)

R | 118 mins | Drama | 3 April 1992

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HISTORY

Opening credits include the statement: “This story was inspired by events that took place on several American Indian reservations during the 1970’s.”
       Items in the 1 Nov 1990 DV and the 5 Apr 1991 Screen International announced that director Michael Apted would follow up his documentary, Incident at Oglala (1992, see entry), about Sioux Indian activist Leonard Peltier with Thunderheart, a fictional story inspired by events on Sioux and other tribal reservations in the 1970s.
       An article in the 9 Aug 1991 HR stated that Thunderheart was the first film produced by Tribeca/Waterhorse Productions, comprised of producers Jane Rosenthal, Michael Nozik, John Fusco and Robert De Niro.
       HR noted that Chief Frank Fools Crow collaborated with John Fusco on the screenplay, and reportedly the chief’s participation granted the filmmakers rare access to filming on private Indian reservations. However, Fusco receives sole screenplay credit. End credits include the statement: “To the memory of Chief Frank Fools Crow of the Oglala Nation.”
       A 2 Jul 1991 HR production chart reported principal photography began 13 Jun 1991 in SD. According to items in the 28 Jul 1991 DV and the 9 Aug 1991 HR, locations included the Pine Ridge Reservation, the town of Kadoka, and several other Indian reservations and small towns throughout SD, with a primary focus on the region known as the “Badlands.”
       The 28 Jul 1991 DV reported that several Lakota Indians near Rapid City, SD, were upset when they learned sacred Lakota ceremonies were to be filmed. They threatened ... More Less

Opening credits include the statement: “This story was inspired by events that took place on several American Indian reservations during the 1970’s.”
       Items in the 1 Nov 1990 DV and the 5 Apr 1991 Screen International announced that director Michael Apted would follow up his documentary, Incident at Oglala (1992, see entry), about Sioux Indian activist Leonard Peltier with Thunderheart, a fictional story inspired by events on Sioux and other tribal reservations in the 1970s.
       An article in the 9 Aug 1991 HR stated that Thunderheart was the first film produced by Tribeca/Waterhorse Productions, comprised of producers Jane Rosenthal, Michael Nozik, John Fusco and Robert De Niro.
       HR noted that Chief Frank Fools Crow collaborated with John Fusco on the screenplay, and reportedly the chief’s participation granted the filmmakers rare access to filming on private Indian reservations. However, Fusco receives sole screenplay credit. End credits include the statement: “To the memory of Chief Frank Fools Crow of the Oglala Nation.”
       A 2 Jul 1991 HR production chart reported principal photography began 13 Jun 1991 in SD. According to items in the 28 Jul 1991 DV and the 9 Aug 1991 HR, locations included the Pine Ridge Reservation, the town of Kadoka, and several other Indian reservations and small towns throughout SD, with a primary focus on the region known as the “Badlands.”
       The 28 Jul 1991 DV reported that several Lakota Indians near Rapid City, SD, were upset when they learned sacred Lakota ceremonies were to be filmed. They threatened to file an injunction against the filmmakers. However, producers assured the Lakota tribe that the scenes would not be filmed, and noted the objections were based on earlier versions of the script. Joan Eisenberg, the film’s unit publicist, stated that the producers were “sensitive” to the issue and had been collaborating with Sonny Richards, a “spiritual advisor” and member of the Lakota tribe. Richards is credited as “Lakota language/Ceremonial advisor.”
       Thunderheart marked the feature film debuts of actors Sheila Tousey, Chief Ted Thin Elk, and Julius Drum. Opening credits also note the film is "introducing" actor John Trudell. However, Trudell's feature film debut as an actor was Powwow Highway (1989, see entry), and Thunderheart was his second feature film.
       The 13 Mar 1992 DV reported that funds raised at the film’s New York City premiere on 23 Mar 1992, at Loew’s 19th Street Theater, would benefit SD’s Wounded Knee School and the Film at the Public series.
       On 13 Jul 1995, articles in DV and HR reported that the “creative team” behind Thunderheart, including director Apted, screenwriter Fusco, and actor Graham Greene, lobbied Congress to support the proposed Film Disclosure Act, first introduced in 1993. As noted in a 24 Apr 1996 DV article, the proposed legislation would alert viewers to a filmmaker’s objections when a film is altered for another medium. Thunderheart was to air on the Fox television network and the filmmakers were upset that TriStar edited out nearly thirty minutes for the broadcast. The 5 Nov 1998 DV reported that despite Apted’s objections, TriStar made 270 edits that cut twenty-two minutes from the film. TriStar also electronically compressed the picture to lose an additional four minutes, and sped up the end credits. Apted and his team were supported by the Directors Guild of America (DGA), with DGA spokesman Chuck Warn claiming the Fox network broadcast would present a “new version of Thunderheart, that is not the Thunderheart that Michael Apted and John Fusco made.” Warn believed the version was so different it amounted to “consumer fraud.”
       According to 24 Apr 1996 articles in DV and HR, Apted was “shocked” by the edits made to Thunderheart, and wanted his name removed from the film when it aired on the Fox television network. TriStar Pictures refused, claiming the DGA contract only reserved that right for directors prior to theatrical releases, not television broadcasts. A DGA arbitration ruled in favor of Apted, and ordered TriStar to include a detailed disclaimer or change Apted’s credit to the pseudonym Alan Smithee, often used by directors unhappy with alterations to their films. TriStar chose to use the Smithee credit. However, the studio filed a lawsuit to challenge the DGA’s ruling. A U.S. District Court judge upheld the DGA arbitration. TriStar appealed the court’s ruling, and the 5 Nov 1998 DV reported that a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld the DGA arbitrator’s ruling, with Judge Alex Kozinski agreeing that TriStar’s alterations were so severe, the studio breached its obligations under its contract with the DGA.
       End credits include “special thanks” to: Alex White Plume; Harold Salway; the people of South Dakota; United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – Badlands National Park; United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service – Buffalo Gap National Grasslands; CBS News Archives.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1991.
---
Daily Variety
13 Mar 1992.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1995
p. 1, 17.
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1996
p. 3, 16.
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1998.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1991
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1991
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1992
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 1995
p. 7, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 1996.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Apr 1992
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
3 Apr 1992
p. 12.
Screen International
5 Apr 1991.
---
Variety
30 Mar 1992
p. 77.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
TriStar Pictures Presents
A Tribeca/Waterhorse Production
A Michael Apted Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
2d 2d asst dir
1st asst dir, 2d unit
Unit prod mgr, Washington, D. C. unit
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Chief lighting tech
Key grip
Still photog
2d asst cam
Cam asst
Elec best boy
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
MUSCO light tech
MUSCO light tech
Loc projection equip
Grip & elec equip supplied by
Arriflex cameras & lenses supplied by
SpaceCam cam, 2d unit
SpaceCam asst, 2d unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
Art dept asst
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
1st asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Prop master
Const coord
Chargeman scenic artist
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
On set dresser
Asst on set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward shopper
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus ed
Scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Supv sd ed
Supv dial ed
Sd ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Sd asst
Dial asst
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
ADR mixer
Foley mixer
Foley artist
Foley artist
Stage rec
Machine op
Machine op
Re-rec facilities
2d boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff asst
Titles & opticals by
MAKEUP
Key makeup artist
Key hairstylist
Makeup asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Prod accountant
Animal trainer
Unit pub
Transportation coord
Extras casting
Extras casting asst
Extras casting asst
Casting asst
Asst to Mr. Apted
Asst to Mr. Nozik
Asst to Ms. Rosenthal
Asst to Mr. Fusco
Asst loc mgr
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Asst prod coord
Animal wrangler
Transportation capt
Insert car driver
Picture car coord
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Lakota language/Ceremonial adv
Historical consultant
Historical consultant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Medic
Loop group casting
Security
Badger puppet by
Craft service
Craft service
Key prod asst, 2d unit
Helicopter pilot, 2d unit
Loc mgr, Washington, D. C. unit
Helicopter pilot, Washington, D. C. unit
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
“Badlands,” written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, courtesy of Columbia Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
“Gonna Take Time,” written and performed by Ali Olmo
“Baby Let’s Dance,” written by Ali Olmo & Germaine Franco, performed by Ali Olmo
+
SONGS
“Badlands,” written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, courtesy of Columbia Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
“Gonna Take Time,” written and performed by Ali Olmo
“Baby Let’s Dance,” written by Ali Olmo & Germaine Franco, performed by Ali Olmo
“Feel Like Fooling Around,” written by Sonny Lemaire, Les Taylor, & J. P. Pennington, performed by Exile, courtesy of Epic Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 April 1992
Premiere Information:
New York City premiere: 13 March 1992
Los Angeles and New York openings: 3 April 1992
Production Date:
began 13 June 1991
Copyright Claimant:
TriStar Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
24 April 1992
Copyright Number:
PA565586
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
118
Length(in feet):
10,725
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31553
SYNOPSIS

Ray Levoi, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, is partly Sioux Indian, although he has never acknowledged his Native American roots. When tribal council member Leo Fast Elk is murdered on the Bear Creek Reservation in South Dakota, the FBI director sends Ray there to join veteran agent Frank “Cooch” Coutelle. When Ray arrives, Cooch informs him that there is a “civil war” on the reservation between militant traditionalists, represented by the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM), and a pro-government faction called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON). Cooch takes Ray to the desert hillside where Leo Fast Elk’s body was found, and there they meet tribal policeman Walter Crow Horse. He wants to bury Leo’s body, but Cooch insists the medical examiner has jurisdiction. As the agents travel through the reservation, they encounter a roadblock, and Cooch introduces Ray to tribal president Jack Milton, who is stopping and searching vehicles of suspected ARM militants. At their motel, Cooch tells Ray about the leaders of ARM, particularly local schoolteacher Maggie Eagle Bear, and Jimmy Looks Twice, whom Cooch believes is Leo’s killer. Leading a team to a sweat lodge ceremony, they arrest Jimmy, but he quickly escapes, leading Jack Milton’s men to tear apart the houses of Jimmy’s acquaintances and damage Maggie’s schoolhouse. When Ray returns to the site where Leo’s body was found, he discovers Walter Crow Horse studying the area. Although Ray is derisive of Walter’s “Indian ways,” the tribal policeman insists the medical examiner will find red limestone in Leo’s wounds, even though it is located only in the bed of Little Walking River, near Maggie Eagle Bear’s home. He claims Leo was killed there, ... +


Ray Levoi, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, is partly Sioux Indian, although he has never acknowledged his Native American roots. When tribal council member Leo Fast Elk is murdered on the Bear Creek Reservation in South Dakota, the FBI director sends Ray there to join veteran agent Frank “Cooch” Coutelle. When Ray arrives, Cooch informs him that there is a “civil war” on the reservation between militant traditionalists, represented by the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM), and a pro-government faction called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON). Cooch takes Ray to the desert hillside where Leo Fast Elk’s body was found, and there they meet tribal policeman Walter Crow Horse. He wants to bury Leo’s body, but Cooch insists the medical examiner has jurisdiction. As the agents travel through the reservation, they encounter a roadblock, and Cooch introduces Ray to tribal president Jack Milton, who is stopping and searching vehicles of suspected ARM militants. At their motel, Cooch tells Ray about the leaders of ARM, particularly local schoolteacher Maggie Eagle Bear, and Jimmy Looks Twice, whom Cooch believes is Leo’s killer. Leading a team to a sweat lodge ceremony, they arrest Jimmy, but he quickly escapes, leading Jack Milton’s men to tear apart the houses of Jimmy’s acquaintances and damage Maggie’s schoolhouse. When Ray returns to the site where Leo’s body was found, he discovers Walter Crow Horse studying the area. Although Ray is derisive of Walter’s “Indian ways,” the tribal policeman insists the medical examiner will find red limestone in Leo’s wounds, even though it is located only in the bed of Little Walking River, near Maggie Eagle Bear’s home. He claims Leo was killed there, and his body was moved. Questioning Maggie, Ray learns that she and her children were in Rapid City, South Dakota, on the day of Leo’s death. He also meets her wheelchair-bound friend, Richard Yellow Hawk, and asks to question her grandmother, who was home at the time of the murder, but Maggie demands a warrant. Later, Cooch is angry that Ray did not record his conversation with Maggie. Walter Crow Horse informs Ray that Grandpa Sam Reaches, a respected elder and medicine man, wants to speak with him. Grandpa had a vision of Ray’s arrival, in which he learned from “signs” that Ray is chasing the wrong man. When Ray returns to Maggie’s house, she lets him talk with her grandmother. They claim their water is becoming contaminated, and Ray promises to help after he solves the murder. Maggie shows him the files of murdered ARM supporters, and asks him to investigate tribal funds controlled by Jack Milton. As they talk, trucks drive by and someone shoots into the house, injuring Maggie’s young son. Ray and Maggie rush the child to the local clinic, and, as the doctor attends to the boy, Ray spots the trucks outside. He beats up several of the men and handcuffs them. Howver, Cooch arrives with John Milton, insists that Milton is on their side, and claims ARM attacked Maggie because she is an informant. Cooch orders Ray to focus on catching Jimmy, and reveals that Grandpa Reaches is ARM’s spiritual adviser, so Jimmy will eventually seek his guidance. Later, Walter Crow Horse invites Ray to a ceremonial campfire on Grandpa Reaches’ property. Grandpa shares a vision that Ray and Walter Crow Horse must go to Red Deer Table together, but Ray refuses to believe in native mysticism. As he leaves, he encounters another roadblock run by Milton and his GOON crew. They let Ray pass, and he returns to the motel, where several officers are waiting. Cooch explains he assembled a field unit, and raided Jimmy’s hideout. Although Jimmy escaped, Cooch found the gun that killed Leo. Ray returns to stake out Grandpa Reaches’ home, and dreams of a graveyard. When he awakens, someone shoots his windshield. He reports the incident, and authorities search Grandpa’s trailer. As they drive away, Cooch and Ray encounter Walter Crow Horse parked on an embankment overlooking the river where he has found Leo Fast Elk’s missing car, half-submerged. Searching the vehicle, Ray finds a jacket whose pocket contains a raffle ticket. Ray visits Maggie, shows her the ticket, and asks if she still has the raffle list, because he believes the jacket’s owner is Leo’s killer. She tells him she is going to “the source,” and suggests he do the same. As he sits in his car, Ray has another vision of the graveyard, and finds himself running with several Indians as they flee a solider on horseback. As the soldier shoots him in the back, Ray awakens. He visits Grandpa Reaches to ask about the vision, and finds Jimmy there. The young Indian wonders why Ray and Walter Crow Horse have not gone to Red Deer Table as Grandpa asked, and reveals that Leo was murdered because he uncovered an illegal land deal. They are interrupted by the arrival of Cooch and FBI agents, who arrest Jimmy. Cooch declares the case is solved, and they can leave the next day. Grandpa Reaches joins Ray, and talks of the Wounded Knee massacre. Among the three hundred killed was a holy man named Thunderheart, whom the spirits sent to help his people, and Grandpa proclaims that Thunderheart’s blood runs through Ray’s veins “like a buffalo.” As Ray drives away, he sees the cemetery from his dreams. Inside, he finds the name Thunderheart on a marker commemorating those killed at Wounded Knee. When he returns to his motel, he finds that Maggie has left information that the wheelchair-bound Richard Yellow Hawk is the raffle ticket owner. Ray confronts Richard and learns he faked the disability as part of a deal. He was offered early release from Leavenworth Prison in Kansas in exchange for getting information on ARM. Richard confesses killing Leo, and reveals that Cooch was one of the FBI agents brokering his deal. Ray and Walter Crow Horse drive to Red Deer Table and discover test drilling sites for uranium. The Native Americans had voted against strip mining for years, but the government pushed them off the land, and John Milton received kickbacks to keep them away. Walter Crow Horse notes that Red Deer Table is the source of their water, and strip-mining will cause contamination. When they discover Maggie’s body, they see that she was taking samples at the drilling site before she was killed. Returning to Richard Yellow Hawk’s home, Ray and Walter Crow Horse find that he has also been murdered. Suddenly, several of Milton’s men arrive and ambush them. As Ray and Walter Crow Horse escape, Cooch and Milton give chase. Over the car radio, Cooch orders Ray to give up, but Ray reveals that he has a recording of Richard Yellow Hawk confessing Cooch’s involvement in Leo Fast Elk’s murder. Evading Milton’s roadblock, Ray drives into the desert toward the tribe’s traditional defensive stronghold in the rocks. Milton and his men surround them, and Cooch tries to negotiate, but Ray knows that Cooch has killed anyone who found out about the land deal. Insisting Cooch cannot kill everyone, Ray drops his gun and walks into the open. As Cooch takes aim, Grandpa Searches and dozens of Indians point their guns from higher ground, forcing Cooch, John Milton, and his men to surrender. Ray quits the FBI and plans to use Maggie’s media contacts to tell the story. +

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

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