Dispatches from the film site and beyond

Today was the day we went to shoot at Wounded Knee.

There Is something at Wounded Knee, and about Pine Ridge in general, that defies explanation. I have heard it is at Gettysburg as well, though I’ve never been there. It has to do with the presence of history so strong that it becomes a spiritual force. Is it the presence of unquiet spirits? Is it the simple presence of death and the abrupt loss of the force of life on such a large scale in a single place? All I know is that it has to do with feelings seeking a place to rest, and finding none.

Dave Bald Eagle, who plays Dan, led us in prayer. This was his place, and in its presence he came alive and we became children at his side. His Lakota words seemed more right than anything any of us could say, as if they reached across and spoke to the forces on the other side.

We all placed tobacco on the mass grave. Richard Ray Whitman (Grover), whose Ponca heritage gave him access that none of us had, lit sage and passed it around. We all pulled it to us and over us, then walked to the grave site and placed tobacco as an offering. Dave led us in all things. We then shook his hand quietly, with gratitude for opening this place to us by his blood right to be there, and stood in silence as the wind blew the prayer ties and the clouds moved silently across the horizon.

The shoot – the real shoot – had begun.

* * * *

Shortly thereafter I had to return to Minnesota for some speaking engagements.  Sadly, I will not be going back to the location.  But before I left I could see that the actors were coming together in a magical way.  I don’t know what Steven is seeing through the lens, but I know that what he is shaping in front of the lens is deeply human and engaging.   It is, as I’ve said, “covered with rez dust.”

There will be a few surprises for those of you who have read the books — surprises I will not reveal. But they are not damaging changes.  In fact, they just increase the authenticity, and that is what we want.  We want viewers to say not that this is absolutely faithful to the book, but that it is absolutely faithful to Indian country.  My purpose as an author, and Steven’s as a director, is to bring Indian country alive for all those who have never been there, and to do it with such authenticity that the Native people who see the film say, “Yes, this is how it is.  Thank you.”

I think that is what is happening.  But, from here on out it is a mystery and a surprise to me as much as to you.

Another surprise that will reveal itself in due time is an episode of the PBS show, Religion and Ethics, that just completed shooting here in Minneapolis.  The crew came in and filmed me in conversation with their interviewer and did some other filming to augment and expand the basic interview.  I have no idea what they will create from the footage they shot.  But I know they interviewed some people for whom I have the deepest respect, did some filming while I was speaking at Joan of Arc church, and took some footage of the great Indian painter, Sam English’s work, and are hoping to use some of John Willis’ photos from Views from the Reservation, a book that any of you who are interested in Pine Ridge and the Lakota should find and cherish.  How they stir that all into a single pot, I don’t know.  My only instruction to them was to make me look young and thin.  There is a reason why God invented CGI.

More later.  Enjoy the autumn.




12 thoughts on “Dispatches from the film site and beyond”

  1. I got goosebumps reading about what you wrote about Wounded Knee….. I stood on that hill years ago myself and it becomes part of you… doesn’t it…

  2. I eagerly anticipate this event. These books led me to discover things about my past I needed to understand. Bless you and the magnificent beings in those books.

  3. Thank you for sharing these news and thoughts, Mr Nerburn!
    It’s been over 10 years since I’ve read your book. And I had always thought that it would be great to make a movie of it. I was a film-student at that time, but too far away and too young. Meanwhile I’m grown up. And I wish I could be part in that project so desperately.
    Good luck for all who are involved!

    Greetings from Germany

  4. That was a very nice statement about moving from a book to a movie. Something we all think about, expecially when we love a book.
    It seems all art forms are different and translating from one to the next is a little like translating between spoken languages. Something has to give, because a literal translation won’t likely work. It takes a special translator to really bring across the flavor and meaning. One who understands and feels it. And, I guess you’ve got to let go good deal and let the translator do his job–which you seem to be very comfortable with.
    The process is facinating when you think about it. There is something to be learned everywhere we turn–if we can just slow down and find the time!

  5. Of course we can expect “surprises”. Book adaptations to film are seldom exact – one can only hope that the adaptation holds true to the feeling of the original. I am so excited to see how it happens in this case, knowing the respect the film makers have for the original material as evidenced by this experience at Wounded Knee. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  6. I get the vibe of all of it – your book, the movie in the making, the feel of the sacred Place – just from what you’ve written here. I don’t know if you realized, when you were writing Neither Wolf Nor Dog, how big of a deal this was all going to be. I have the feeling that this film is going to be very, very good.

  7. Your words, as always, touch a deep place in us — because they come from a deep place in you. I can’t speed read you. I have to read slowly, and sit with your words… they soar into places of poetry at times….

  8. hey kent. been a long time. just had to chime in here…. Jim Harrison told me that Wounded Knee is ”the most melancholy place on Earth.” He is right. Hope the film is good. I’m making one too with my kola Keith Braveheart. On the website listed here. Take care.

  9. Pingback: Kent Nerburn: Dispatches from the film site and beyond . . . this is a beautiful read! Thank you, Kent . . . ~J | 2012: What's the 'real' truth?

  10. Finally. This is so exciting and I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Kent Nerburn, you are my favorite author. I exchanged a few messages with you a few years ago. My daughter also loves your work & is now going to college in Minneapolis—MCAD. She would love to go to one of your speeches. I want to thank you for helping me, by reading your books I have learned to dig deeper into my Cherokee Choctaw heritage. I have encouraged some family members to do the same. Again, thank you for your encouraging,beautifully detailed words and for your passion to bring peace and communication among these amazing people. Keep up the good work.

    Beverly Chupik

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