Wounded Knee

Director: Stanley Nelson
Screenwriters: Marcia Smith

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


On the night of February 27, 1973, a caravan of cars carrying 200 armed Oglala Lakota—led by American Indian Movement (AIM) activists—entered Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and quickly occupied buildings, cut off access, and took up defensive positions. When federal agents arrived, they declared, “The Indians are in charge of the town,” and a 71-day standoff ensued.

Compiling an astonishing amount of archival film footage (notable for the key moments it captures) and firsthand accounts from participants, Stanley Nelson creates an immersive, comprehensive account of the occupation and its fascinating complexity. The Sioux sought redress of old grievances and broken treaties (just miles from the massacre of 1890) but also demanded the ouster of Pine Ridge tribal leader Dick Wilson, who governed through corruption and intimidation as he pursued deeply divisive policies of assimilation.

Nelson also explores the climate of racism in border towns; the broad political context that shaped the AIM—its tactics, organization and ability to exploit the national media; and ultimately the role armed protest played in Native American self-conception. With its iconic images of Indians holding the government at bay, Wounded Knee not only brought national attention to an invisible community and its desperate conditions but contributed to the tribe's awakened sense of dignity and connection with their proud heritage.

— John Nein

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]