On A Knife Edge

Coming-of-age as a Native American leader in a climate of deprivation and growing tension

On A Knife Edge George Dull Knife, a teenager from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is the youngest in a long line of legendary Lakota leaders. Abandoned by his mother and raised by a proud activist father, George must learn to adapt the old ways to the realities of modern life. Over five years and against a backdrop of rising tensions, George finds himself clashing with the police and his tribal council as he finds his place in a climate of social injustice and family demands.

“Why is it that we’re bad for standing up for our people, huh? They look at your guys as heroes for standing up for your people.” George Dull Knife is in Whiteclay, peacefully protesting the white-owned liquor stores that exploit vulnerable members of the Lakota people. The police have arrived, and George believes that they are here to protect the interests of the owners, not the protestors. Despite repeated trouble, George feels protest is the only way to make the Lakota voice heard: “We need to open our eyes now” he says, “let the white man know they pushed it too far.”

George is a direct descendant of Chief Dull Knife. In 1878, the chief had led his followers on a six-hundred mile freedom flight after forced relocation by the American government. George’s father, Guy, has been careful to instil in his son the significance of his name and George inherits a profound sense of responsibility. George is, like them he says, “a Lakota warrior.”

George and Guy, along with George’s siblings, live on the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Their community is struggling: the high school dropout rate is 70%, the average wage is $2,600 per year. Poverty leads many Lakota to alcoholism and drug addiction. The majority white authorities and communities outside the reservation actively contribute to Lakota misery: “They are bloodsuckers”, says George, “the only thing they want from the Native Americans is their money and their sorrow.”

This Dull Knifes are no exception to this sorrow: George’s sister Mary took her own life in March 2015, only a month after the Ogala Sioux chief had declared a suicide state of emergency. For Guy Dull Knife, his people’s predicament reflects a loss of a sense of self, “to me, that's the most important thing is for George and all the kids to know who they are.”

Yet for George, the reality of who he is and who his people are today, can be too much to bear, “Sometimes I think I don't want to live this life. Every day, you wake up and you think, ‘Why does it gotta be us’, you know?” Yet, despite oscillating between optimism and pessimism about the future, the Dull Knifes remain consistent in their central belief: they must continue to lead and defend their people,“people say the Indian wars ended in 1890”, says George, “all us Lakota, we know it’s still going.”

LaurelSkins Fest – Official Selection
LaurelDoc Fest – Official Selection
LaurelSpotlight Documentary Film Awards – Gold Award Winner
LaurelTulsa American – Best Documentary Feature Film Director
LaurelPortland Film Festival – Official Selection
LaurelSanta Fe Independent Film Festival – Official Selection

The Producers

Jeremy Williams: Director
Jeremy Williams is a BAFTA Award-winning director who has worked in television for twenty years and made more than 40 documentary films as a producer and director. He is currently a lecturer in Film and Television practice at the University of Falmouth in the UK in their Department of Film and Television. Jeremy has been a long‐time collaborator with October Films, producing a number of television documentaries and two feature-length docs: London and Ghosts of the 7th Cavalry , the latter nominated for a One World Media Award for Best Documentary in 2008. Recently he produced and directed Restless Flights , which profiled Nobel Literature Prize winner JMG Le Clezio, and Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone , for Channel 4 in the UK which was shown in WNET’s Wide Angle series as Eyes of the Storm.

Eli Cane: Producer
Eli Cane runs Normal Life Pictures, a New York-based production company. He was producer and music supervisor for The Market Maker, which aired nationally on PBS as a Wide Angle in 2009 and was selected for the Good Pitch at Silverdocs. He also produced a feature-length documentary for the Why Poverty? series entitled Land Rush, about agricultural land grabs in Mali and the future of food sovereignty. The film was featured at the Good Pitch London in 2011 and at IDFA in 2012, and has been screened in both the UK Parliament and the US Capital Building. In addition, the film became a center-piece of Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign, and aired in dozens of cities around the US in honor of World Food Day in 2013. The film was instrumental in achieving the campaign’s primary goal of convincing PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé, and Illovo to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards land grabs.

Making The Film

Filming began in April 2010 and continued until December 2016. Production trips were conducted in an episodic way and generally lasted from a few days to several weeks, with a small crew, usually from one to three people.

Animations were created simultaneously and during post-production. Nebraska-based artist Michael Burton worked with Guy, creating the painted stop-motion animations in his Lincoln, NE studio.

The film is a coproduction of ITVS, Vision Maker Media, and Normal Life Pictures, Inc. It received additional funding from Tribeca Film Institute, Humanities Nebraska, and the South Dakota Humanities Council.

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