The paper "Incident at Oglala" is a good example of a movie review on law. Incident at Oglala is an interesting documentary that exposes the American court system. The movie is directed by Michael Apted and has a running time of around 90 minutes. In a true sense, the movie is all about a court trial with all focus on Leonard Peltier who is a Native American activist and has been imprisoned in the charge of murdering two FBI agents in a shootout at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during 1975. Along with Peltier, two other members of the American Indian Movement were also charged with the crime but the trial court acquitted them. Peltier has been convicted of double murder by the court and consequently sentenced for two life terms in the jail.
Robert Redford, the narrator cum producer, became interested in making of this film after he met Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen had already written about Pine Ridge events in his book the Spirit of Crazy Horse. In fact, before the making of this film, Redford had just finished a film by name Brubaker that spoke about prison reforms. It was, in fact, Matthiessen who informed Redford during their meeting that Peltier's life was in danger that inspired him to make this film.
Apted, who was convinced by the producer to direct this film, had great difficulty in making due to the nature of incident and involvement of FBI agents. Also, it was difficult for him to have true and valid information from Indian leaders. It took a long time for him before he could interview Peltier and get his version of the incident. Moreover, Apted was also under the pressure to complete the movie without wasting much of the time as Matthiessen and Oliver Stone were also planning to make the film on the same subject.
The film speaks a lot about the American justice system, especially the way it deals with American Natives. The film begins showing the killings of FBI agents. The film is clear in its message since the beginning that Peltier has been pushed into the jail because of the repeated lies cleverly maneuvered by FBI agents creating and planting false evidence and witnesses. At times, Police resorts to the intimidation tactics. Apted emphasizes effectively in his coverage that Peltier's trial was falsified by police and the system. It is quite unusual that a lady who previously signed an affidavit stating that she was a witness to the incident, later on, turned up and accepted that she even did not know Peltier. On the contrary, she accused police of launching threats against her if she did not cooperate she might lose her children.
The movie shows how the whole justice system itself was put to trial when the reports that earlier said about red pickup later on changed to the van as if officers were unable to make the difference between the two. Director wants to imply that the discrepancy on the simple matters such as these does not make the trial honest and impartial. A person who earlier reported to be in camps with everyone else during the incident, later on, turned up and claimed to have witnessed everything from the close quarters. Similarly, ballistic reports submitted by the FBI were not authentic to prove Peltier guilty on any of these grounds. Apted has been successful in demonstrating that this is truly a mockery of the American court system looking at the way Peltier’s trial has been completed to declare him guilty of double homicide.
A person is innocent until proven guilty that is what law states and so should be the case with Peltier and that is what Apted has conveyed in this film effectively. Enough doubt did persist on Peltier’s being guilty even then court convicted and sentenced him two consecutive life terms. The movie gives a message to the audience that somehow the American court system has not been working judiciously.
Apted had dramatized the similar story in one of his own film Thunderheart earlier but this version of the story is certainly more touching. His whole focus in the movie is on the court’s trial system – evidence, witnesses that do not prove accused guilty yet he is served the life term. It has never been the endeavor of director to conclude whether Peltier is guilty or not but his concern is the court and trial system that does not function in an impartial way. This certainly does not go well for such a large heterogeneous society.
Though the movie shows about a lacuna that prevails in the American justice system it has some monotonous overtures too. Further, the movie does not show Apted’s directional brilliance as found in his 7-Up series. The movie is certainly worth watching for it has been able to touch an important point that our court systems need to function more judiciously to impart justice to all regardless of their status.