“Between Oil and Water” is the latest VICE on HBO piece to benefit from the inestimable talents of New York Film Academy Documentary Filmmaking grad and associate producer Andrea Blake.
Along with VICE on HBO’s documentary series, Andrea Blake’s growing roster of credits includes “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: a Short Film by Spike Jonze,” “Black Market with Michael K. Williams,” and the acclaimed documentary series “Chicagoland.” Yet VICE’s “Between Oil and Water” provides a uniquely intimate look at the surprising source of a cultural and political movement that grew into one of the nation’s largest and most talked-about protests: Standing Rock, South Dakota.
“You can’t drink oil! You can’t drink oil!” the crowd chants in “Between Oil and Water.” The film profiles some of the youth who behind the start of the national movement: 13-year-olds Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer and Alice Brown Otter — classmates at Standing Rock Community Middle School in Fort Yates, North Dakota. It was in a culture class that a teacher asked them to write to the Army Corps of Engineers about their opinion on the pipeline, which had be rerouted to go through their reservation after the community of Bismarck, North Dakota — a predominantly white population — had cited safety concerns, and the pipeline’s trajectory was moved.
As VICE News shows, Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer recalls thinking, “If it’s not safe for them why do they put it on our reservation? It’s like they think our lives are more expendable.” After writing for class, both students joined 30 fellow indigenous youth on an incredible 2000 mile run from North Dakota to Washington D.C. in July 2016 to hand-deliver their letters to the Army Corps of Engineers.
This was the spark of the Standing Rock movement. According to “Between Oil and Water,” the Standing Rock protests evolved into the largest Native American protest movement in history, with 10,000 participants at its peak. Though the plans for the pipeline have not been changed, the film shows how the movement played an essential role in national debate and also had a transformative effect on the young students who played such a central part.
Alice Brown Otter concludes that while she is disappointed that the government is moving forward with the pipeline, she tries to maintain a positive outlook. “We fight with our words, we fight with kindness, and we’re just strong.”