October 31, 2012

West of Thunder to fund school

Film sheds light on plight of Lakotas

G. Allen JohnsonDavies co-wrote and stars in "West of Thunder," a Western set in 1899, about the beginnings of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota from the perspective of the Lakota people. But this is more than just a film: It is a fundraiser for a proposed $15 million school for impoverished Lakota children on today's Pine Ridge Reservation.

"I consider the film the engine to the train--and the train is the school," Davies said. "It's a film where all of the profits go to this K-through-12 Cambridge-accredited school in economically the poorest area in the United States.

"We wanted to make an amazing film, but we wanted to shed light on the problems of the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation."

"West of Thunder," co-written and co-directed by former Berkeley resident Jody Marriott Bar-Lev and co-directed by Steve Russell, plays at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bridge Theatre as part of 37th American Indian Film Festival. The festival opens Friday at the Bridge with two short films and the Canadian feature "Path of Souls," about a road trip by a grieving wife and her best friend to sacred Indian sites, and closes Nov. 10 with an awards program at the Palace of Fine Arts, which hosts the last three days.

"West of Thunder" is up for best film. It also has been nominated by the prestigious Political Film Society in Hollywood for best film on human rights and best film on peace--George Lucas' "Red Tails" is one of its competitors. It looks like a multimillion-dollar production--cinematographer John Stanier shot "Rambo III," among other films--and the sets are amazing. The movie was shot at Wisconsin's Stonefield Historic Site, as well as wide expanses in Colorado and California. But make no mistake: It's a distinctly Lakota project.

"We worked with the Lakota people," said Marriott Bar-Lev, who has worked on the Pine Ridge Reservation and saw the plight of the children firsthand. "So we weren't trying to guess what their perspective was or about the authentic things of that time."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Davies Defends West of Thunder and Whites Star in "Thunder Being" Movie.

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