A documentary that portrays a years-long saga to change the University of North Dakota athletics nickname is expected to come to some North Dakota theaters starting May 1.
The news of the film's in-state release was highlighted in a Tuesday podcast by Forum Communications Co. blogger Rob Port, whose guest was filmmaker Matt Fern. Fern, of Bismarck, took on the project seven years ago in hopes of telling a "bigger story in North Dakota" and one that "had been in the headlines for a long time."
"It seemed like a perfect fit for a documentary," Fern told Port.
The efforts by UND to change its traditional Sioux nickname — prompted by threatened action by the NCAA — has been a front-burner issue in the state for at least two decades. It started in 1999 with a failed proposal in the Legislature to change UND's nickname; in 2005, the nickname drew scorn from the NCAA, the governing body of top-level college athletics. In 2015, the university officially adopted Fighting Hawks as its team nickname and logo.
In the years between came legal fights, failed requests for approval from a Sioux tribe within the state, statewide votes and all sorts of political wrangling.
"It's a big part of North Dakota's history," Fern said on Port's podcast. "You can't help but see that name and logo all over the place. The film does a good job of explaining both sides. It also does a good job of explaining the whole history of the Sioux name and the logo itself."
Fern said the documentary — titled "Fighting Over Sioux" — was at least partially funded by Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding website. It has been shown in film festivals and at screenings, with Fern saying he is "trying to make it better every chance I get."
He said he hopes to have a full list of theaters and ticket information available by late March.
He said the documentary is bigger, and deeper, than a simple film about sports.
"The biggest takeaway I get from the movie is that there are a lot of bigger issues here still facing tribal communities," he said. "I think that makes it relevant. ... We're still grappling with racial prejudice between natives and non-natives."