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IFC Films Buys Documentary ‘Lakota Nation vs. United States

IFC Films is acquiring North American rights to “Lakota Nation vs. United States,” a documentary about the Lakota Indians’ quest to reclaim the Black Hills. That sacred land was stolen in violation of treaty agreements, and the film, from directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli, looks at the many ways that the U.S. has ignored, overlooked and failed to grapple with the historical wrongs done to Indigenous communities.

“Lakota Nation vs. United States” is narrated by and features the poetry of acclaimed Ogala Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier, winner of the National Books Critics Circle award and finalist for the National Book Award. The score is composed by Raven Chacon, recipient of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for “Voiceless Mass,” and director of photography is Kevin Phillips (“Super Dark Times”). The Lakota activists featured in the film include Nick Tilsen and Krystal Two Bulls, two organizers of today’s Landback movement, which is a push to get Indigenous lands back in Indigenous hands. The film is produced by Benjamin Hedin (“MLK/FBI”) and Phil Pinto (“MLK/FBI”). Author and activist Sarah Eagle Heart is executive producing the film alongside Mark Ruffalo and Marisa Tomei. Other executive producers include Jodi Archambault, Kathryn Everett, Bryn Mooser, Salman Al-Rashid, Sam Frohman, Julia Walsh, Becky Gochman, David Gochman and David Friend.

“Lakota Nation vs. United States,” which was produced in association with XTR, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2022. It will screen next at SFFILM Doc Stories. IFC Films will release the film in select theaters in summer 2023. It will stream exclusively on AMC+ later that year. IFC Films and AMC+ share a parent company in AMC Networks.

Short Bull is a 2016 Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program Development Grant recipient and is also a member of the Oglala Lakota tribal government. Tomaselli previously partnered with IFC Films on Sam Pollard’s “MLK/FBI,” which earned a place on the Oscar shortlist in 2021 and garnered Tomaselli a Cinema Eye Award nomination for outstanding achievement in editing. Earlier in 2022 the filmmakers received a grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund.

Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films, said, “We are honored to partner with Jesse Short Bull and continue our relationship with Laura Tomaselli, Benjamin Hedin and Phil Pinto after the success of ‘MLK/FBI.’ ‘Lakota Nation vs. United States’ should be required viewing and we are committed to bringing this issue to a larger national audience in collaboration with the Lakota community and the Landback movement.”

“Both of us are overjoyed this film found a home at IFC Films,” said Short Bull and Tomaselli in a joint statement. “In bringing ‘Lakota Nation vs. United States’ to audiences we hope to help catalyze a necessary conversation about healing and creating momentum towards repairing historic wrongs.”

Added Ruffalo, “We’re thrilled to be partnering with IFC Films on the North American release of ‘Lakota Nation vs. United States.’ A film about Landback could not be more timely or urgent, and we hope the documentary helps catapult the movement into the national consciousness, pushing for action that will return the Black Hills to the Lakota people.”

The deal for the film was negotiated by IFC Films’ head of acquisitions and production Scott Shooman with Jason Ishikawa at Cinetic on behalf of the filmmakers. Magnolia Pictures Intl. picked up international rights and will be launching the film at AFM this week.

Variety's Brent Lang contributed to this post.


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