Nelson and longtime collaborator and screenwriter Marcia Smith spent two years compiling footage, writing, editing and taping interviews for "Wounded Knee," a film that chronicles the 71-day standoff between American Indian Movement activists and federal troops near the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre almost 100 years earlier.
The confrontation in the winter of 1973 brought national attention to the Lakota tribe, attracted nationwide news coverage, and captured some of the American West's most iconic images. The cowboys-and-Indians drama played out against vast open spaces as the Lakota brandished rifles and federal tanks encircled and crept in on the band. "The occupiers of Wounded Knee were so good at exploiting stereotypes," mused Nelson. "They wore braids with ribbons in their hair. It was a huge confrontation, and it was in the middle of nowhere. Once news crews were assigned to the story, they had to stick around."
Nelson pared down more than 100 hours of footage to make the 74-minute documentary, which spans the 80 years after Geronimo died through the Wounded Knee standoff in the early 1970s. The film, the fifth in a series to air on PBS May 11, was a departure for the filmmaker, whose previous work has focused on the black experience in the United States.