deadCENTER review: “A Good Day To Die”
“A Good Day To Die”
Directed by David Mueller and Lynn Salt
The best documentaries examine the overlooked. For “A Good Day To Die”, filmmakers David Mueller and Lynn Salt opened up a chapter of American history rarely read by anyone, the story of Dennis Banks and the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) of the late 1960s and 1970s.
The film is beautifully researched, as Mueller and Salt spent two years digging into dozens of archives across the country to find photographs, news reports, video (homemade and from various news outlets) while also procuring just as many interviews with members of A.I.M. and the federal government present at the scenes of protests, trials and marches the country over. Backed by a Native American soundtrack (composed mostly of Banks’ singing), the tense scenes at the Wounded Knee occupation and protest in Custer, South Dakota carry a far more deathly imposition than that of Vietnam protests of the same era accompanied by “For What It’s Worth”.
Co-founder Banks and the the rise of A.I.M. were inextricably linked, and filmmakers follow him from his youth spent at a U.S. government-enforced boarding school in Minnesota to a brief stint in prison before he began a policy of “confrontational politics” against the government that many of the interviewed Native Americans liken to a big bully. Among their complaints were that Minnesota police were pinning unsolved crimes on Native Americans and that unjust mass arrests and harassment were denying them their civil rights.
There’s documentation aplenty of A.I.M.’s occupations of Custer, Washington D.C. and Wounded Knee and the grainy footage of pissed-off automatic weapon-wielding Indians at the latter is pretty awesome. It’s a powerful image that answers the film’s resounding question, “What do people do when they’re abused and oppressed to the point that they’re willing to die for better conditions?” It’s like a real-life “Braveheart” with a real-life William Wallace, told in documentary form.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t ply very deep into the private character of Dennis Banks. We learn a lot about his motivation to help his people but the audience doesn’t see him at his most personal, in his individual relationships with others. Regardless, he’s presented as a determined, motivational character who’s well-loved and appreciated by native people the world over.
Grade: 3.5 stars out of 4
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