Sunday, March 13, 2022



The film, by Hot Docs Winner, Filmmaker Kris Kaczor
 that had its US Premiere at the 37th Santa Barbara Int'l Film Fest, Chronicles the Legendary Influence of High School Basketball State Champion – SuAnne Big Crow – of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

It's the beautiful and powerful soul of SuAnne Big Crow that led award-winning filmmaker and director, Kris Kaczor into the path of documenting her abbreviated but phenomenally successful life as a high school basketball champion in the late '80s and into the early '90s, leading the only all-girls Native American basketball team to state championship wins and also taking them to compete internationally. 

Big Crow is a story about the power of hope in the most destitute
place in America - South Dakota’s Lakota Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. 

By age fourteen, SuAnne Big Crow had become one of the state’s best basketball players. By age seventeen, her wisdom, leadership, and determination had made her a household name across the Great Plains. 

Through never-before-seen VHS coverage of her games and home videos and extensive interviews, the film examines who SuAnne was on and off the court. Big Crow chronicles how this young Lakota leader crossed racial divides to propel her culture into a better tomorrow. 

Thirty years after her tragic death, SuAnne’s spirit has proven legendary; everyone on “the Rez” has a story about how SuAnne’s pride in her people continues to galvanize the Lakota. 

Besides the legacy that SuAnne left behind and has influenced every generation in the Lakota community, what I sensed also was her spirit reaching out to today's generation to fight to reclaim their native tribal heritage, language and save their culture. Kaczor effectively captured a moment that reflected the cause and effect of the native tribal nations in the US today: "America Was Built on Stolen Land". 

Post-screening, I had the opportunity to speak to Kris Kaczor and Story Producer, Inila Wakana native Lakota, a Pine Ridge holy man, and a social activist. 

Kaczor recalls how he got acquainted with SuAnne, "I was always interested in telling hero stories and stories of individuals. SuAnne (her spirit) had been calling me for years after I read the portion of Ian Frazier's book 'On The Rez', and then I literally bumped into SuAnne's grave on another job years later. I felt at that point I needed to answer the call to make a documentary on her and felt she was guiding me to tell her story."

On how Kaczor was given permission to make the film and tell SuAnne's story, he said, "I was offered access into the Lakota community by Inila Wakan. He found out I was a filmmaker and wanted to record an oral history of Pine Ridge. While on the
reservation I was introduced to SuAnne's mother Chick Big Crow and sister Cece Big Crow. My intention was to see if they would agree to film a documentary on SuAnne, and they agreed."

Inila Wakan and Kris Kaczor became comrades during the filmmaking process and although Kaczor was an outsider coming in to tell the story of one of their people, it was his gut feeling that Kaczor was the right person to tell SuAnne's story to the world. "I always knew, from the very beginning, Kris was the one to make the film, I liked him (Kris) right away. He has a trusting nature, and that is important."

Wakan feels people need to be constantly educated about the Native American people. "This is a film that provides education to American students and children, who think we are invisible people. We are still here."

In terms of support, to better the economic conditions of the Lakota people and the land (almost the size of Connecticut) Inila said, "We really don't get any support. We have a lot of resistance from Americans. They don't teach the students at the elementary school level, the relationship with the Native people whose land they live on. So how could they know if they are not taught, or made aware of who we are and how we live now?"

Kris Kaczor concluded, "When it comes down to it, all documentarians are a little bit like propaganda artists, trying to tell something. And especially when you want an outcome that has social action, you need to explain why. This (story) was from the ground up, the desire and attempt to make a hopeful documentary about a traditionally unhopeful subject."

We see SuAnne’s continued influence on her alma mater, the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes, as they continue to fight for Class A state championships. One current player is said to play just like SuAnne. On the Rez and on the court, everybody’s looking for the next SuAnne. 

The SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club was created in 1992 and was the first Boys and Girls Club built in Indian Country. The center was named for SuAnne, who had wished for a "Happy Town" for children in her community. The Spirit of Su Award is given every year to an outstanding senior player who exemplifies the life of SuAnne Big Crow. The player is judged on outstanding athletic ability, leadership, character, sportsmanship, and grade point average. The South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) presents the award annually at each of the six boys’ and girls’ state basketball tournaments. The recipients receive an American Indian star quilt as part of the award presentation.

And so, as I sat in the packed theater watching SuAnne's story unfold on screen at the just-concluded Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I felt SuAnne come alive once again, spreading her luminous presence and touching every person present in the room. To re-ignite that flame of hope and courage probably muted in so many of us, and to remind us to never stop blazing through life and living every moment of it. 

The Lakota are a Native American people, also known as the Teton Sioux, and are one of the three prominent subcultures of the Sioux people. Their current lands are in North and South Dakota.

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