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Rebecca and Josh Tickell talk about ‘On Sacred Ground’ film

Filmmakers Rebecca and Josh Tickell chatted about their new film “On Sacred Ground.”

'On Sacred Ground'
'On Sacred Ground.' Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch
'On Sacred Ground.' Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch

Filmmakers Rebecca and Josh Tickell (“Kiss the Ground”) chatted about their new film “On Sacred Ground.”

It stars William Mapother (Lost), David Arquette (Scream franchise), Amy Smart (Stargirl), David Midthunder, Irene Bedard, Kerry Knuppe (Pachinko), Frances Fisher (Watchmen), Irene Bedard (The Stand) and Mariel Hemingway (Grace & Grit).

The producers include Rebecca and Josh Tickell, Joanelle Romero, William Mapother, Mark Sims, and John Paul DeJoria. It premiers in select theaters and On Demand on January 13, 2023. “This is the first scripted film that deals with Standing Rock and it really touches on important issues,” Rebecca said.

“It was our first time writing a script, hiring a cast and shooting a film from a script,” Rebecca added. “It was a whole new world for us and a huge learning curve. It was deeply humbling on so many levels since it touches on an issue that is so sensitive for so many people. We had to approach it with such reverence and respect. There was a lot of learning in this process.”

“On Sacred Ground” is a drama about a conflict as old as America itself. Big Picture Ranch has a bold mission, to use filmmaking to reverse climate change before it is too late. Their recent film Kiss the Ground (Netflix) narrated by Woody Harrelson introduced the world to the concept that we could reduce carbon in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels through improving soil health. “Kiss the Ground was a culmination of 15 years of experience in our environmental documentary films,” Rebecca said.

“It was an incredible tool that produced real world results, and that is our goal with ‘On Sacred Ground.’ To bring injustices that need people’s attention to light and in the mainstream. It’s not about your geographical location, it is about everyone coming together to heal. This is a movie about healing,” she added.

“This new film ‘On Sacred Ground’ is a total expression of our deep desire to be of service, and to touch as many people as possible. We felt that by jumping out of the documentary medium, we could potentially touch even more people. It was really challenging every step of the way and we are so proud of the film,” she added.

“We have to use every tool available to get atmospheric carbon levels down to an acceptable level that can sustain human life on Earth. For us that tool is movies,” Rebecca said.

On the filmmaking process, Josh said, “It was one of the most challenging movies we’ve ever made, that’s for sure. It was a beautiful experience too. All these people came together: the indigenous actors, the people that have been in Standing Rock, and other people that cared about the issue. They came together in the dead of winter to make this film. We all ate together and we were all co-housed. It was like winter camp for movie-making.”

“It was very cathartic and we came together as a community, and we bonded. It was a healing experience for everybody,” he said. “It was a very humbling experience to attempt to take such a big subject on such a small budget and small crew under these difficult circumstances, and craft something so true to life and meaningful.”

“The stakes were high because our documentaries were seen by a lot of people and they feel a sense of ownership over those films. We didn’t want to let our audience down so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and that is never an easy place to start a creative journey,” he added.

“Rebecca and I became a stronger filmmaking team together because we had realized that we set the stakes so high and the circumstances were so difficult that we had to find new ways to work together and new ways of communication, and we had to make ourselves even stronger and trust each other more, and that is interesting after a decade of making films. It really taught us a lot about being stronger filmmakers,” he elaborated.

The Big Picture Ranch film studio is run by husband-wife filmmaking team Josh and Rebecca Tickell. The Tickell’s and their studio are known for their pedigree of award-winning, activist and star-studded documentaries including FUEL (Winner Sundance Audience Award 2008), The Big Fix (Festival de Cannes) and most recently Kiss the Ground, which launched at the Tribeca Film Festival and garnered over 75 major film festival awards before landing on Netflix.

As part of the unique release of “On Sacred Ground,” Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell’s Big Picture Ranch will also screen the film on over 1,000 college campuses, as a means of promoting its underlying message of equality and the importance of upholding indigenous rights.

“On Sacred Ground” follows Daniel (Mapother), a journalist and Afghanistan War military veteran, and Elliot (Arquette), an oil company executive, who find themselves on opposite sides of the fight during the 2016 construction of the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, land that is owned by the Lakota “Sioux” Tribe. 

As the story unfolds, Daniel starts to align himself more with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe than the oil company he was hired to write about favorably, and the two characters go down separate paths as the events unfold during one of the most heated protests and confrontation with Native American tribes in modern U.S. history.

Protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline occurred at several places because of concerns about its impact on the environment and to sites sacred to Native Americans. Indigenous nations around the country opposed its construction, along with the Sioux tribal nations.

In North Dakota, next to and on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, nearly 15,000 people from around the world protested, staging a sit-in for months. The film from directors Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell draws on their personal experiences as well as actual footage shot during the protests. The pair also consulted with Lakota tribal members and indigenous film producers to ensure the depiction of events in the film accurately told their story.

“We’re hopeful that On Sacred Ground can awaken audiences to the intersection of indigenous issues and the climate crisis,” Rebecca said. “One thing we realized while making this movie is that to heal our planet, we may first have to heal the mistakes of our past.”

“We had never made a scripted movie before, so from the first minute, it was like a comedy of errors, but seriously, we could make a documentary comedy about me and Josh making this movie. This was just not the right topic to make a mocumentary,” Rebecca said with a sweet laugh.

“Ultimately, it was a spiritual journey making this film because you don’t realize what kind of film you’ve made until you watch it with the audience. That’s the moment you realize it,” Josh acknowledged.

“This movie allowed us to unite around an important cause,” Rebecca concluded.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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