On Sacred Ground


Directed by Josh Tickell, Joshua Tickell, and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, On Sacred Ground (subtitled It’s Time to Take a Stand) starts with a series of titles to provide filmviewers some background information, including the lawsuit filed against the Dakota Access Pipeline project by the Dakota Nation in 2016. Later, the fact comes out that the oil is to be exported from the United States after the long journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the pipeline was built and began operation in 2017, a court ordered the pipeline to stop operation in April 2022 pending an environmental review.

The film begins in a small town in Ohio, where Daniel McKinney (played by William Mapother) is living with his pregnant wife (Amy Smart). A freelance journalist and an empathetic Christian who once covered in the Iraq War, he often has nightmares about his wartime experience. One day Ricky (Francis Fisher), editor of the Houston Daily on the pay of a Texas oil company, summons him to glorify the pipeline after looking into his background as a writer likely to praise the project. Daniel then flies to Standing Rock Reservation, where members of the Dakota Nation are protesting. First, he meets Elliot (David Arquette), overseer of the project, and acquires positive information about the project, including BS that Dakotans assault them with bows and arrows. Then he submits a pro-project essay for publication. But while talking with Elliot, he discovers an arrowhead on the ground. Next, he meets some Dakotans, who consider the land sacred, including Marion (Mariel Hemingway). He soon realizes that mainstream news about the protest has been false. The Dakotas fear that the pipeline, which they call the “black snake,” will go under the Missouri River and inevitably leak, destroying the main source of their fish and water. Even Elliot has admitted that a leak is possible and hopes that oil someday will be replaced by renewables. In addition, a lawyer tells Daniel that the project is using land that two treaties have awarded to the Dakota Nation and thus is unconstitutional, though digging is taking place regardless of a pending court case. After submitting the arrowhead to a scientist for analysis, he discovers that the object is 1,500 years old, which he soon surrenders to Marion. When he goes to the site where protesters confront the diggers, separated by barbed wire with police on the side with the diggers, he also meets some former Iraq veterans who have joined the protesters. One night the protesters are bombarded with water. Another night the tents of the protesters are burned. He then confronts Elliot and writes about what is really taking place. When the film ends, he comforts his wife and their newborn baby boy.

The Political Film Society has nominated On Holy Ground as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2023.  MH

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