Film tracing years between Indian battle, massacre premieres 5-18-07

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - A film that traces the years between the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre premiered Thursday night in Rapid City in advance of its HBO debut May 27.

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” is a film adaptation of historian Dee Brown's 1970 book.

Daniel Giat, the screenwriter, transformed the historical volume into a movie. The book isn't about the Lakota Sioux or any single tribe, but rather about the experience of various tribes.

He said he selected the story of the Lakota partly because the Wounded Knee massacre occurred on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Giat said each story in the book involved the government's forced acquisition of land and the eradication of the American Indians' culture and language.

He said the film allowed him to tell the stories of people such as Sitting Bull and humanize them. It had been hard for a white audience to sympathize with such characters because they had always been depicted as saints, not as human beings, Giat said.

He said the movie depicts Sitting Bull as a flawed man, proud and vain. The human factor allows viewers to feel for him all the more because of what he does to keep his people together, Giat said.

Adam Beach plays Charles Eastman, a Lakota-born doctor who exemplifies the struggle of American Indians in assimilation. Beach said he gained a respect for Eastman during the filming.

“I think a lot of Indian people will leave with ownership of their spirit and strength. ... I feel fortunate to be part of HBO's project in telling the truths to that story,” he said.

Another actor satisfied with the film was South Dakotan Eddie Spears, who played Chasing Crane. “I'm humbled to be part of project of this caliber,” he said.

Spears read the book as a youth. When film auditions came up, he jumped at the chance. “I couldn't wait to be a part of it,” he said.

Sam Martin, vice president of HBO Films, also attended the screening.

“There's nothing like bringing it back to the land” where the history occurred, she said.

Martin said the film is important because “it does something that hasn't been done from an American Indian perspective before.”

Nathan Chasing Horse, originally from Rosebud, played Sitting Bull's son. He said he felt a special connection to the project because of his heritage.

“Being Lakota myself, I felt that whatever part I played in the movie would represent not only my family, but also my people,” said Chasing Horse, now of Los Angeles.