For some, it will probably open a scab wound that has just barely started to heal. A few of us got a first look Sunday night at the still unfinished “The Fighting Sioux: Unauthorized” movie. (I’ve seen several variations of the title.) All I can say is that it exceeded my expectations. And my expectations were pretty high.
The story of UND’s fight with the NCAA over the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo (much too complicated to really dig into too deeply here) is told in the documentary without narration, in the words of “witnesses.” Some I call the “usual suspects” like Herald columnists Marilyn Hagerty and Lloyd Omdahl and former Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman, but also by some of those involved in the back-and-forth with the NCAA over the nickname like North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, former head of the UND Alumni Association Earl Strinden and North Dakota Board of Higher Education member Grant Shaft. Also, UND hockey fans and many of those involved from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Reservations. Forty or more in all.
It’s downright painful to watch again as the North Dakota Legislature tries to take control (unsuccessfully) of the issue and to see officials do a stunning, seemingly overnight about-face as they try to convince nickname supporters that it’s time to let go.
And yes, as controversial of its subject is, the film is fair, despite a lack of participation from UND itself. I doubt too many will find fault with how the story is told. Keeping in mind that I’ve been wrong before.
The documentary itself is beautifully shot by filmmaker Matt Fern of Bismarck, with some cool drone and time-lapse views of both reservations and Grand Forks and Bismarck. Some of the music chosen is truly quirky.
The film also very subtly drifts into sub-texts like reservation poverty and abuse issues and then back again to the nickname. Artful.
It would have been nice to have had a few more lighter moments. Then again, there wasn’t too much to laugh about at the time, as I recall.
The film isn’t done yet. Already several years in the making, Matt wants at least a couple more private showings of “Unauthorized” in North Dakota before making his final cuts. Then he’ll try his luck in the film festival circuit and hopefully a distribution deal. He says he intends to take his time. That you only get one chance at it. Clearly a labor of love for him, I really hope it all works out.