This is the Sitting Bull few people know. This is the man neither the hard-hewn image emblazoned on t-shirts nor the boor caricatured on television who we see in John Ferry's captivating documentary, Sitting Bull: A Stone in my Heart. Ferry spent four years of research to develop an oral history, the story of Tatanka-Iyotanka in his own words, recited in earnest authenticity by artist and activist Adam Fortunate Eagle. Like Ken Burns at his best, the viewer is yanked head and heart to bear witness as Native America s most famous son talks about his life on the Northern Plains, the Battle of the Little Big Horn and finally, his complicated views of Euro-American culture.
Except for a few lines of dialogue invented for cohesion, it is Sitting Bull's first-person account of his life and times. And what an amazing life and time it was. A standout leader even at a young age, he used his bravery and wit to defy the encroaching incursion into his ancestral lands. He reveled in the attention from performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, selling his autograph for a dollar or more a pop. He loved fame and developed an appreciation for ice cream and white dancing girls. When he finally met with the Great White Father to explain the plight of his people back home in South Dakota, Sitting Bull was insulted by President Cleveland's dismissive demeanor. Not the treatment a man with his standing and outsized ego was willing to accept.
Similarly, Sitting Bull found it astounding that a culture that calls itself civilized abused its children and allowed people to go homeless and hungry on city streets. The wealth he amassed as an entertainer was given away to the urban poor and those on the reservation in need, keeping none for his personal enrichment. It's clear that despite the allure of celebrity, he remained to his core a Hunkpapa Lakota chief; a devotion he eventually paid for with his life in 1890. It is anecdotes like these interspersed with archival photos, graphics and a powerful score by Steve Henry and Cory & Ernie Orosco, that leave you wanting to know more.
DVD, 83 minutes.