On December 29, 1890, U.S. Army soldiers massacred 300 Lakota tribal members at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Known as the Wounded Knee Massacre or the Battle of Wounded Knee, the incident will forever remain a blemish on the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans.
But Wounded Knee was not to fade into the past. Eight-three years later, the name Wounded Knee again drew public attention when followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and 200 Oglala Lakota seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The siege began on February 27, 1973 and continued through May I, 1973, following protests against the tribal president, accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Soon the group began to protest that the U.S. Government had failed to fulfill multiple treaties, The Oglala Lakotas and AIM activists managed to hold the town for 71 days and attracted the attention and support of media stars like Marlon Brando, Johnny Cash, and Jane Fonda. Brando probably drew the biggest audience when he declined the Academy Award for “The Godfather,” sending in his stead Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache actress, to speak on his behalf. But the American Indians would not prevail. When the dust at Wounded Knee finally cleared, approximately a dozen combatants had been killed.
The story of Wounded Knee inspired author Cyril Morin to fashion two docudramas surrounding possible events. THE SACRIFICE ZONE is a newer version of Morin’s earlier 2014 film “The Activist” set in 1973. As Morin elaborated, “In 1972, an executive order turned a large part of South Dakota into a “sacrifice zone”…meant the government could strip mine Indian reservations for uranium and coal.” Even today, Native Americans experience environmental problems, including water that is often tainted and the problematic “Dakota Access Pipeline.” Morin decided that his new film would focus more on the “sacrifice zone,” made the film’s color palette brighter, and rewrote the music.
During the 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee, two activists, Marvin (Chadwick Brown) and Bud “One Bull” (Michael Spears) are arrested and thrown into jail at the mercy of sheriff Henri Frasier (Circus Szalewski) and his brutal deputy (Ron Rogge). While Bud broods in silent anger, Marvin mourns his wife and Bud’s cousin Anna Ward (Tonantzin Carmelo), who might have died in a car accident – or perhaps met a more sinister fate. Young attorney Claire Chapman (Alena Von Stroheim) is assigned to defend the two men and soon gets caught up in the maze. Further investigation eventually reveals a massive conspiracy involving the Federal Government and big business (Morin’s “sacrifice zone”). Even jail cell visits from Marlon Brando, a sitting senator, and an advisor from the Nixon administration cannot change the course of history.
Author and director Cyril Morin helms the film with a firm hand, keeping this engrossing story moving along to its inevitable conclusion. The talented cast makes sure that beguiling puzzle pieces will form a complete picture in time. Underlying tension pervades each scene as internalized emotions, unexpressed fears, deep-seated prejudices, and elaborate machinations unfold. THE SACRIFICE ZONE is a thought-provoking piece which brings to life tragic Wounded Knee history in a very personal and contemporary way. The film is a must-see for history buffs and those with a deep interest in Native American milestones. But it is also a very human tale which will appeal to people who are fascinated by other people, with all their human strengths and foibles.
THE SACRIFICE ZONE is scheduled for release in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world on May 17, 2022, on multiple platforms, including Amazon, Arte France, Bell TV, Orange, Canal VOD, CVS, FilmoTV (TVOD), Google, Hoopla, inDemand, iTunes, Kanopy, Klic, Microsoft, Molotov, Pluto TV, Proximus, Rakuten, Sky, TCL Channel, Telus, Tubi, Universcine, Videofutur, Videotron, Vubiquity, Vudu, EST, tAVlD, tSVod, and VoD-Rental. The film will be available in English, Spanish, and French versions.