North Dakota’s ‘Water Protectors’ Bring Their Pipeline Story to Film

They call themselves “water protectors” and describe the Dakota Access pipeline ferrying crude oil across America as “the black snake.”

In “Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock,” the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and those who flocked to windswept tribal lands in North Dakota last year to protest the pipeline, get to tell their story on their own terms.

They also hope to build on the impetus of the months-long standoff, despite the $3.8 billion project by Energy Transfer Partners LP eventually going ahead.

“The ambition of the film is really to get people to understand the issue and feel it in a way that’s emotional,” said director Josh Fox, an environmental activist and filmmaker.

The film, comprised of three parts by different directors, premieres on Saturday – Earth Day – at the Tribeca film festival. It also will be streamed online at on a pay-what-you-can basis with all proceeds going to the cause.

“It’s really about pushing the movement forward. We also want to say, you guys did something unbelievable, and this is one way of giving a debt of gratitude,” Fox said.

The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) Dakota Access line running from North Dakota to Illinois drew international attention in 2016 after the Standing Rock Native American tribe sued to block completion of the final link, saying it would desecrate a sacred burial ground.

Environmentalists also argued that potential leaks along its length would risk poisoning the water supply for some 17 million Americans.

In February, U.S. President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to complete the project. The protest camps were demolished and oil is expected to start flowing in mid-May.

The film contrasts the water cannon, rubber bullets, helicopters and riot gear used by law enforcement officials against the protesters with idyllic scenes of sparkling water, sunsets, starry skies and communal camp life. More than 700 people were arrested during the protests.

“The film initiates as a dream, as if the last 500 years of civilization didn’t happen,” said Fox.

“It was an amazing place, and it ran on very different principles than our society – those of sharing mutual respect and non violence,” said Fox, who spent several weeks there at the suggestion of “Divergent” actress Shailene Woodley.

Although the protesters ultimately lost the battle over the pipeline, their spirits remain high.

“Our camp is gone, but our spirit is not broken,” says Sioux member Floris Bull White. “Will you wake up and join us?”

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