Nebraska filmmaker raises issue with screening plans

Published Tuesday April 7, 2009

OMAHA, Neb. – A documentary filmmaker said Tuesday he was facing another roadblock in an effort to bring light to the troubles tied to beer sales to American Indians in the northwest Nebraska village of Whiteclay.

Mark Vasina, director and producer of “The Battle for Whiteclay”, said Western Nebraska Community College canceled three screenings of the film next week, citing state accountability and disclosure rules.

“You can’t discuss public policy at a university because you might be talking about a law change?” Vasina said. “That’s laughable.”

But a college spokeswoman late Tuesday denied they canceled the screenings, called the situation a misunderstanding and said they plan to show the film next Tuesday at Scottsbluff and Sidney campuses.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to one of the poorest, most alcohol-ravaged populations in the country. The 5,000-square mile reservation is home to about 15,000 Oglala Sioux, and alcohol is banned on the land.

So residents of the reservation drive to Whiteclay and buy thousands of cans of beer every day. Problems in the area – where people are often passed out drunk on the sidewalks or begging for beer money – have been the subject of finger-pointing for decades.

Vasina said an official with Western Nebraska Community College told him showing the film would put the school in violation of the state’s Accountability and Disclosure Act because the film discusses public policy and public resources would be used for the screening.

The film documents life in Whiteclay, including what Vasina describes as the state’s failure to curb liquor sales to residents of the reservation. Several legislative attempts to give the state Liquor Commission more leeway in deciding whether to grant or renew liquor licenses have failed in recent years.

Mindy Burbach, a college spokeswoman, said officials did tell Vasina that the screenings might have to wait until this fall. But after screening the film, the college moved forward with plans to show it, she said.

Frank Daley, executive director of the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission, said he saw no provision in the act preventing the screening or discussion.

Public resources can’t be used to pay to support or oppose a candidate or a ballot question.

“All that was said was we have to be careful … if it’s promoting a ballot issue, we can’t use public funds to support it,” Burbach said. “We knew nothing about the film. We were looking into it.”


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