A look inside Hollywood and the movies : ON LOCATION : It’s That Earlier Version of the Script Thing Again

The producers of “Thunderheart” have told a group of Lakota Indians near Rapid City, S.D., that sacred Lakota ceremonies will not be used in the completed movie, which stars Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard and Graham Greene.

In the movie, which is being co-produced by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and John Fusco for Tri-Star Pictures distribution next spring, Kilmer plays an FBI agent who learns of his Indian heritage as he investigates a murder on a reservation. Filming, under director Michael Apted, began last month on the Pine Ridge Reservation, east of Rapid City.

Attorney Steve Hawk said that some of the local residents who were cast in the film were upset when they learned that such rituals as a sun dance, ghost dance and sweat lodge ceremony were to be filmed. “We hold our religion near and dear to us . . . the use of religious ceremonies in the movie cheapens our religion,” Hawk said.

Shortly after filming began, Hawk threatened to file an injunction to stop filming. A meeting was arranged with the producers’ representative, attorney Mike Abourezk, and Hawk gave him a written statement delineating the sacred ceremonies his clients did not want on screen.

Abourezk was quoted by the Rapid City Journal as saying the “Thunderheart” crew would not film the scenes in question. But Hawk said the producers have not signed any agreement so far.


“There’s nothing in writing, but we were assured by the producers that the scenes with the ceremonies would be deleted,” said Hawk, who is representing several Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation. “But I cautioned my clients not to proclaim victory. We may have been given a gray answer to pacify us.”

“Thunderheart” publicist Joan Eisenberg noted that the complaints had been based on earlier copies of the script. “The producers have been sensitive all along and we are working with a spiritual adviser, Sonny Richards, a member of the Lakota tribe.”

“For the time being the matter is settled,” said Denise Ross, a reporter who covered the story for the Rapid City Journal. “At least until the movie comes out.”