West of Thunder is winning numerous awards including two from the USA Political Film Society based in Hollywood, California for “Best Film on Human Rights” and “Best Film on Peace”.
They were competing against some powerful contenders that included George Lucas’ Red Tails and the Andy Garcia/Eva Longoria/Peter O’Toole film For Greater Glory. Since 1987 these awards have been given to such films as Platoon, Schindler’s List, Good Morning Vietnam, Dances with Wolves, Saving Private Ryan, The Insider, The Green Mile, Remember the Titans, Hotel Rwanda, Dead Man Walking, Blood Diamond, The Hurt Locker, Gran Torino, Avatar, Inglorious Bastards – you get the idea. By the way, the other two March 2013 USA Political Film Society awards were won by Ben Affleck‘s Argo (Best Film Expose) and Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln (Best Film on Democracy).
Dan Davies (‘Johnny’) and Sadie Kaye star in this 2012 American Western feature film, directed by Jody Marriott Bar-Lev and Steve Russell. My friend and actor Ed DiMaio played the Bookstore Owner, listed among the full cast and crew. He invited me to attend a local film screening at Hope Church here in Sturgeon Bay. I went expecting to be polite and sit through a semi-professional local film. What I saw was much better than anything I have seen out of Hollywood in years – if for no other reason than to hear the beauty of Native American people speaking to each other in their own language with English subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen.
But there are lots more reasons why I am quite impressed with this film. It breaks or blurs the boundaries between spirit and imagination, between ghosts and the incarnate. It provides a bridge that spans the missing gap in American history as European tides of un-settlers swept across the old West. It revokes the medals awarded to the decorated “heroes” of Wounded Knee, holding them accountable for their acts of barbarism imposed upon indigenous peoples. I would categorize this film as a spiritual mystery tale. It’s spooky and very thought provoking.
If you are lucky enough to find it, resist judging the film by the opening titles or the credits. They are both absolutely repellent, each in their own distinctive manner. Call that the stale bread and toss it aside. The core of this sandwich is a rich treat. The actors are real unvarnished people, the kind who might be found more than a hundred years ago in a dried up small town on the outskirts of the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. They have sinned and are held accountable in this dark tale of revenge and personal responsibility.
A musical score from both cultures is woven into the story, performed with fiery passion… be sure to sit quietly through those endless closing credits for a reward performance by Neville Farmer, Ian Hatton, Deni Bonet, and Jon Bridger. There are numerous Native dancers and an explanation of the Spirit of the Drum to accompany the beat of the Lakota.
And today… “Pine Ridge is the poorest area of the United States with the statistics of a third world country, lack of housing, lack of heat and running water, 85% unemployment, 70% school drop out, high rates of alcoholism and drugs, very high teenage suicide rates, poor health and nutrition and a life expectancy of only 47 years. The current reality is that Lakota people are at a precipice—unless something is done to affect change, this once noble nation will be ‘just pages in history books.’”
Profits from screenings of the film support the building of a K-12 school that will serve the Lakota tribe. Have I given you enough reasons to track down and see this film?
“This was a wonderful movie that honestly conveyed the real issues that affect the “silent minority” to this day. I loved the cultural awareness woven in through the film and how it makes us aware that The People truly survived through their choice of completing their circle, choosing harmony and peace-keeping ways. They knew that to do otherwise would destroy them. Their losses were so great through the massacres, loss of family, land, language and way of life. This is a part of “OUR” history and we are all complicit in our silence. Our prayers and actions are needed for all Indigenous People of the world. They are survivors, having much to teach us about living simply, in harmony and balance with Nature and each other.” - Melissa Nelson