Theatrical release: April 1, 1992.
Shot on location at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This is the first feature film shot on that location. Pine Ridge is the second largest reservation in North America, with a population of about 18,000.
THUNDERHEART grossed nearly $23 million at the domestic box office.
The film employed over 250 Native American extras.
Former American Indian Movement chairman John Trudell plays the part of the FBI suspect, Jimmy Looks Twice. Trudell was head of AIM when Leonard Peltier was convicted. He met director Michael Apted while working on INCIDENT AT OGLALA. Trudell is also a musician and poet.
The film is partially based on screenwriter-producer John Fusco's experiences as an adopted relative of the Oglala Nation. He spent five years at Pine Ridge and met the Oglala Sioux medicine man, Chief Frank Fools Crow, who became the inspiration for the character of Grandpa Reaches. "Grandpa Reaches sees Ray as a young man who is materialistic and has lost touch with the earth and with himself," Fusco said in the film's production notes. "Grandpa can see all these things just in the accoutrements that are all over Ray--his expensive watch, hiding behind the sun glasses and all. So Grandpa proceeds to trade these things away from him and strip him down, which is something Grandpa Fools Crow used to do." Grandpa Fools Crow died at the age of 100, one year before production on THUNDERHEART began. "The relationship I had with Grandpa Fools Crow was the key that unlocked this story for me," Fusco stated.
The film was also inspired by what happened on the Pine Ridge Reservation between 1971 and 1978, when the reservation was divided into two factions, traditionalists and assimilationists. The conflict between the two groups led to many unsolved murders.
This is the first feature where Robert De Niro served solely as a producer.
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