Bruce Miller reviews The Battle for Whiteclay

Published Wednesday June 25th, 2008

I saw the premiere of “The Battle for Whiteclay” at the Orpheum Theatre Wednesday night and wondered why it wasn’t snapped up as the centerpiece for Tolerance Week. The documentary — about the Native American battle to close four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb. — is just ripe for such a showcase.

The film, which features local activist Frank La Mere (who’s a compelling speaker in just about every venue), should be acquired for one of PBS’ many documentary series. It has inherent drama and a fascinating storyline.

At the Pine Ridge, S.D., Indian Reservation, alcohol sales are banned. The reason? Officials want to curb alcoholism rates. A mile or two away, however, four Whiteclay liquor stores are reaping big profits while the death toll mounts. To combat the problem, a group of tribal leaders asked the state to do something about the stores. Some folks appear sympathetic, but nobody gives an acceptable answer in Mark Vasina’s film.

The movie is compelling — even though some of the meeting scenes could be edited.

Some moments are difficult to watch. Others are truly frustrating. But the upshot is clear. Something needs to be done. People have suggested a solution and few want to take it.

If there’s another opportunity to see the film, do. You’ll be surprised that this kind of problem exists so very close to home.

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