‘War Pony’ brings Pine Ridge Reservation to Cannes
CANNES, France (AP) — South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation has often been depicted in movies, but rarely from the inside.…
CANNES, France (AP) — The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has often been depicted in movies, but rarely from the inside. The Cannes Film Festival entry “War Pony,” however, sought to capture daily life on the reservation by drawing on the perspectives of its Native American residents.
The film was directed by actor Riley Keough and his friend, Gina Gammell. They both reside in Los Angeles. But while filming Andrea Arnold’s 2016 film “American Honey” across the heartland of the United States, Keough shared a scene with Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy, two young Lakota men from Pine Ridge with no experience of actor whom Arnold had enlisted as extras.
“We just got stuck together in a motel room for four hours,” Keough, the ‘Zola’ and ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ actor recalled in an interview at Cannes. “Our stage got moved so we were just sitting there drinking beer.”
“She was the star there, so I was like, ‘OK, cool’. Just on set drinking,” Sioux Bob says, smiling. “I got paid $2,000 for about two hours of my time, so I’m not mad about it.”
But what started an unlikely friendship — and ultimately a collaboration — would span the next seven years. Keough and Gammell would visit Pine Ridge, and later Sioux Bob and Reddy would travel to Los Angeles. Hanging out and making Snapchat videos eventually turned into a script written by Sioux Bob and Reddy.
After such humble beginnings and a lot of drinking time, “War Pony” emerged not only as an accomplished portrait of life in Pine Ridge, but also as an enthusiastically received Cannes premiere in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival.
“It’s so wild,” Keough laughs and shakes his head in disbelief. “Every time I look at Frank and Gina, I’m like, ‘What?’ We know how we started and how far we have come.
“War Pony” follows a pair of protagonists. One is Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting), a laconic 23-year-old who manages to get by by hustling odd jobs and lands a gig with a wealthy white rancher nearby who is profiting and plundering the reservation in various ways. The other is Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder), a 12-year-old boy whose father is a drug dealer. A series of interconnected and loose episodes ensue, both comedic (a potentially lucrative poodle plays a co-starring role) and tragic.
The stories came directly from Reddy, Sioux Bob and others who drew on their own memories and experiences on the reservation. It was shot in the streets where many actors live.
“It wasn’t too hard to keep the authenticity,” says Sioux Bob. “We are all first-time actors. It’s Pine Ridge. It’s your life. All that weird stuff you see in the movie was Tuesday.
“War Pony,” which is seeking distribution in Cannes, features a cast of mostly Oglala Lakota and Sicangu Lakota citizens of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Rosebud Sioux Tribe. A key figure was producer Willi White, a tribal citizen of the Oglala Sioux tribe who strove to bring more authentic portrayals of indigenous people to movie screens.
“Pine Ridge is truly unique,” says Sioux Bob. “It’s really beautiful but it’s so chaotic. That’s what I wanted everyone to see. It’s not just my reservation. All reservations are in rural areas like this and there are probably groups of kids doing the same things. And I wanted it to be highlighted. It’s reality.
Coming to Cannes, many actors and filmmakers made their first trip abroad. The young Crazy Thunder had never heard of Cannes before. But the experience of making “War Pony” – realistic and ultimately triumphant – and seeing his home honestly reflected on screen inspired him.
“You want to go out and find more resources and take a different opportunity, aim higher,” says Crazy Thunder.
That films are ultimately written by one person, “the author”, is a common belief at the Cannes Film Festival. But the community effort of “War Pony” challenges that notion.
“A lot of people made this movie,” Keough says.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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