In 1974, in a true incident, two FBI agents were killed in a gun battle that erupted on a reservation in Oglala, North Dakota. Leonard Peltier, a leader of AIM (the American Indian Movement) was convicted of the murders. However, existing evidence suggests that Peltier did not commit the crimes, and that his arrest may have been politically motivated. British director Michael Apted, known for his probing documentaries (the 7 UP series), explores this question through interviews with witnesses, judges, US attorneys, Peltier, and a mysterious figure named Mister X--who claims to be the person who shot the two FBI agents. Narrated by Robert Redford, who has long been associated with Native American causes, the film makes a strong case that Peltier should at least receive another trial. It also reconstructs the chaotic time before the incident, when division between two factions on the reservation created an atmosphere of sheer terror. Released shortly before THUNDERHEART, Apted's fictionalized portrayal of Native American life in the 1970s, INCIDENT AT OGLALA presents a disturbing examination of the mistreatment of American Indians, and like Apted's film CLASS ACTION, the film also examines the U.S. legal system.
INCIDENT AT OGLALA presents the controversial story of American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, who in 1975 was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents and sentenced to life in prison. Similar to Errol Morris's THE THIN BLUE LINE, the film carefully reconstructs the murders and offers damning evidence that the FBI railroaded Peltier into jail with falsified testimony, flimsy ballistics testing, and sleight-of-hand that turned a red and white van into a red pickup truck. The documentary was released just weeks before Apted's THUNDERHEART, a fictional portrayal of the life on the reservation in the 1970s.
Executive producer Robert Redford investigated the Peltier case in the 1980s with Peter Mathiessen, the author of IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE, a book decrying Peltier's conviction. Redford visited Peltier in prison in Marion, Illinois, in 1981, and became convinced of Peltier's innocence. At first, the actor tried lobbying politicians and judges; in the late 1980s, he decided that he needed to make Peltier's story even more public by making a film. John Trudell, who is interviewed in the film, collaborated with Jackson Browne to create the soundtrack for the documentary.
"...Straightforward, meticulous documentary....INCIDENT AT OGLALA achieves what it set out to do..." - 05/08/1992 New York Times, p.C15
"...Convincing..." -- 3 out of 4 stars - 05/29/1992 USA Today, p.5D
"...INCIDENT AT OGLALA is an even-handed cry of outrage, a coolly passionate documentary that focuses a piercing ray of light on an American scandal..." - 05/08/1992 Los Angeles Times, p.F1
"...The documentary gives us a vivid picture of the Indian reservations of South Dakota....Peltier himself is one of the film's most convincing subjects..." - 06/16/1992 Chicago Sun-Times, p.47