"Brillant" (The Village Voice)
"Intriguant" (Los Angeles Times)
"Une totale réussite" (Life In L.A.)
"Un film important, à voir absolument" (Hollywood Progressive)
"Le film laisse son empreinte, bien après qu'il soit terminé" (L.A. Splash Magazine)

"All and all the film is a grand success" (Life in LA)
"Brilliant" (The Village Voice)
"Intriguing" (Los Angeles Times)
"The Activist is Most notable and worth seeing" (Hollywood Progressive)
"The memories linger long after the story is told" (Los Angeles Splash magazine)

Action and Authenticity Can Be Found in Cyril Morin’s The Activist (
MARCH 2014 - Omar Najam

When most cinephiles think of Native American narratives, they often go to The Last of the Mohicans or Dances With Wolves (or, if you're lucky, Smoke Signals). For me, these films (aside from Smoke Signals) are problematic because they turn characters into martyrs for a disappearing culture instead of focusing on humans underneath the narrative. Fortunately, there's a movie coming to Los Angeles that strips down the action and focuses on a group of Americans and their reactions to the events of Wounded Knee. This film is called The Activist.

The Activist follows the story of Marvin Brown, a man who recently lost his wife, and Bud Ward, the cousin of his late wife, as they are picked up by police officers and kept in dingy prison cells while the American Indians fight for freedom at Wounded Knee. After a visit from lawyer Claire Chapman, the two suspect that their detention has less to do with their previous arrest records and more to do with a nationwide government conspiracy.

Chadwick Brown plays Marvin Brown, the hero of the story, with unrivaled conviction. His character is complex and hard to read, and Brown nails the performance with a merciless glare he is willing to use against policemen and senators alike. Michael Spears disappears into the role of Bud Ward with an electric anger that only builds and develops as the film spins its thrilling plot from within the confines of the cold cells.

On the opposite side of the wall from Brown and Ward are policemen Frank McCarthy (played by Ron Roggé) and Henry Frasier (played by Circus-Szalewski). While the prisoners drive the plot of this film, the chemistry between the officers is explosive. Frasier is a cop who is starting to find compassion for the Native American cause, while McCarthy is spiraling into violent outbursts, possibly due to post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his service in Saigon.

Adding fuel to the fire is Alena Von Stroheim's Claire Chapman, a fresh-faced lawyer who, through investigating Brown's wife's death, uncovers a massive political scheme at the heart of Nixon's involvement in the events of Wounded Knee. This discovery exacerbates James Carson (played by Anthony Palermo), a stone-faced politician who not only has President Nixon's ear, but also his best interests at heart.

Ultimately, writer/director Cyril Morin takes this blockbuster concept and confines it to a three-cell prison, slow cooking the tension over an hour and a half with the power and vehemence of a Cold War spy novel. While most popular Native American films deal with social injustice through sweeping battles and grandiose speeches, Morin humanizes his tale by melting away the Hollywood pomp and replacing it with relatable characters more concerned with day-to-day issues than the greater historical context of Wounded Knee. In doing so, Morin crafts a movie that says more about the 70s and the American Indian Movement than any film I've ever seen before.

For me, the film earns a "must-see" label for two reasons. The first is that I personally have never seen a Native American historical narrative explored through the political thriller genre. Taking prominent Native American characters and placing them within a framework of deception of conspiracy bridges events like Wounded Knee into the fabric of the ongoing American cinema history instead of simplifying the story to a "this happened one time" deal. By playing with this genre, I feel like the story is more humanized than simplified to good and bad or right or wrong.

The second reason that this film earns the "must-see" label, for me at least, is because it is a period piece that does not feel like one. As someone who was not alive during Nixon's presidency, I feel like every piece of media I absorb about the era is from some grainy news reel that ends up distancing me from the history more than anything. But several times in the film, I forgot that the events took place in the past. The themes of prejudice, violence and distrust of government felt so revenant and topical that the 70s references almost felt out of place. In a similar way that the Cohen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis made the 60s timeless, bringing the characters out of any tie-dye hysteria, Cyril Morin strips away the decade's clichés in order to boil the film down to the human core. What's shocking about The Activist isn't that these injustices happened in the past, but that they could happen and probably are happening right now.

All in all, the film is a grand success. It sets out to familiarize you with two members of the American Indian Movement and shares all revenant opinions on Wounded Knee while maintaining a ground-level perspective of what it was like to live through these events. Historical films usually betray themselves in elevating their heroes to an almost unapproachable, mythological level. But in The Activist, Marvin is not trying to change the world. Instead, he is just trying to do what he sees is right.

As a thriller, The Activist never lets up, building tension between Marvin, Claire, Frank and Henry until the nail-biting conclusion of the film. It is a disturbing film, no doubt, but without any gratuitous preachiness that you would expect. I would go so far as to say that this is an important film, a film less concerned about capturing a moment in history as much as focusing on those who lived through it. If you have any interest in the events of Wounded Knee, the motivations behind the American Indian Movement or the struggle for hope during times of paranoia and wire-tapping, this movie is for you. Or if you are just interested in a high-stakes thriller that will keep your eyes pinned to even the most minuscule hand-twitch, be sure to check out The Activist.

The Activist opens at the Arena Cinema at 1625 North Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood on March 7th. For tickets and showtimes, be sure to visit the theater's website at For more information on the movie, visit

GENE CHANG (Los Angeles Splash Magazine)

This film showcases the tragic tale of American Indian subjugation by the government in an historical 1973 insurrection and the attempt by the Nixon administration to subvert the actual events for political gain. Beautifully shot by award winning French composer Cyril Morin (he scored the music for critically acclaimed "Samsara"), this film genuinely develops the various characters in a sort of onion peeling manner. The appearances initially, of many of the characters, however iconic, are explored and deepened with insights into how they changed, and as typical of French cinema, you really get to sympathize with the various characters by the end of the film, even the bad guys. A nuanced film, not for the blockbuster driven crowd, like a fine bottle of wine - the memories linger long after the story is told.

Actress and Life Obsession

The world of indie film-making is a great one when we can appreciate the pleasing facets of upcoming actresses and Alena Von Stroheim will no doubt fascinate. I was overwhelmed with joy after hearing from an actress friend how it’s so refreshing to know that I’ve consistently featured faces that the film industry should really start noticing. The Sedona Film Fest is just the platform to be privy to their wonderful virtues and Alena is certainly one to adore. She stars in the political thriller “The Activist” as Claire Chapman, a lawyer assigned to the case of two men implicated and arrested in the Wounded Knee insurrection in 1973, a notable Native American uprising. She’s a fighter for the political prisoners in an unjust world and proceeds to free them by any means necessary. Up against corporate greed, her unflappable portrayal of a woman seeking justice for both men is going to stir the emotions.

Her upcoming feature “Hacker’s Game” will be a fascination with all things cyberpunk with the premise being a love story between two computer hackers. Director Cyril Morin who also directed “The Activist” has Alena in the cast and with her character’s name inferred as Lena Leiboviz, expect her to be at the height of beguilement. Alena also happens to be the granddaughter of Erich von Stroheim, a film star of the silent era which means performing is certainly in her blood. It’s time to open our eyes and hearts as we expect her to steadily gain more publicity for her work.

Le Ben Franklin Post

Le réalisateur Cyril Morin nous parle de son film The Activist, un thriller politique sur l'insurrection des Indiens à Wounded Knee, le tout sur fond de secret politique. Entretien.

Comment vous est venu l'idée de ce film ?
J'ai beaucoup travaillé comme compositeur et un jour on m'a appelé pour un film qui avait ce sujet-là. A chaque fois que je travaille sur un film, je fais beaucoup de recherches et je prends beaucoup de notes. Sur ce projet, j'avais été entraîné assez loin dans cette histoire de Wounded Knee et j'ai découvert la façon dont les Indiens étaient traités à cette époque-là. Alors que, je pensais qu'après les différentes manifestations qu'il y avait eu dans les années 1960, beaucoup de choses avaient été réglées aux Etat-Unis et j'ai vu que le sort des Native americans n'avait pas été réglé, loin de là. Disons qu'il s'est passé pour eux en 1973 après Wounded Knee, ce qui s'est passé pour les Noirs américains dans les années 1960.

Etiez-vous particulièrement touché par le drame vécu par les Indiens ?
En fait, comme compositeur, j'ai travaillé sur beaucoup de films qui traitent de minorités. Là, j'avoue que j'ai vraiment été très touché par le sujet. Pendant deux ans, mes notes sont restées près de moi sans trop savoir ce que j'allais en faire. Mais je me disais qu'il fallait en faire quelque chose ! Et au moment où je me suis dit "ok, je vais réaliser un film", j'avais déjà mon sujet. Je voulais aussi parler de l'activisme dans les années 70 parce qu'il me semble que c'est quelque chose qui fait miroir avec aujourd'hui.
Je pense en effet que le Vietnam et l'Irak, c'est un peu la même chose : les gens se sont un petit peu endormis comme dans les années 50, dans une époque de consommation. Il y a besoin que l'opinion se réveille.

Quelle est la part de fiction et de réalité dans The Activist ?
Tout le contexte historique est tout à fait réel. Et j'ai créé ce huis clos pour parler symboliquement de sujet sans avoir 40 personnages. Il y a des références symboliques, comme celle à Marlon Brando aux Oscars, lorsque Sacheen Littlefeather est venu refuser l'Oscar en son nom. Elle a d'ailleurs vu le film et a beaucoup aimé. Il y a aussi le combat qui n'est pas fini entre George McGovern et Nixon. C'est vrai que je ne les nomme pas directement, mais j'invente une sorte de jeu politique qu'il y avait à cette époque-là. Mon regard comme réalisateur c'est de raconter une histoire et d'avoir un regard au-dessus de la mélée. Je suis à l'extérieur, je suis ni Américain, ni Native American, mais je suis un citoyen du monde.

Comment le film a été reçu aux Etats-Unis ?
Il a été montré dans plusieurs festivals, notamment l'American Indian Film festival à San Francisco. Cela veut dire qu'il rentre dans une lignée de film historique, et c'est le seul sur le sujet, ce qui va donner la possibilité à beaucoup de gens de s'ouvrir à cette histoire. Il y a des réactions plus émotionnelles et d'autres plus politiques. Je pense que c'est bien de ne pas faire un film qui donne la solution à tous les sujets mais qui démarre une discussion.

Quels sont vos projets futurs ?
Je termine un film qui s'appelle «Hackers Game». Une histoire d'amour entre deux hackers sur fond de manipulation.


Eclairer un évènement historique est une nécessité à une époque où les mémoires ont souvent tendance à ne retenir que l'actualité immédiate. Cyril Morin, dont le talent de compositeur n'est plus à démontrer, s'y attache en braquant sa caméra sur une des nombreuses zones d'ombre de la présidence de Richard Nixon. "The activist" revient sur les évènements de 1973 à Wounded Knee avec une fiction qui capte de bout en bout l'attention du spectateur. Son film, servi, par d'excellents comediens, suscite la reflexion, en nous faisant vivre un huis clos tendu et plein de rebondissements narratifs.

ADRIAN JAWORT (Indian Country Today Media Network)

This film showcases the tragic tale of American Indian subjugation by the Lakota actor Michael Spears will be hosting the Awards portion of 38th annual American Indian Film Festival this week in San Francisco, where he's also been nominated for best supporting actor for his role in The Activist. In the film he portrays an American Indian Movement member during the turbulent 1973 Wounded Knee occupation. An intense political thriller directed by French director Cyril Morin, the film also includes Native co-star Tonantzin Carmelo-Best (Tongva and Kumeyaay), known for her role as Thunder Heart Woman in Steven Spielberg's Into the West miniseries.

The Activist screens tonight (Sunday) at 7 PM at the Delancey Street Theater in San Francisco. For more information on the film, see its page at the AIFF website and

What's the plotline of The Activist?

Although it's fiction, they did find weapons grade uranium under the Black Hills -- this film is based off an actual report called the Sacrifice Zone that President Nixon signed off on. So it's about two fictional characters wrapped up in the middle of it, but they do embody a lot of real life people that went through a lot of hardships from being torn from their families to being harassed by the federal government and agents. I don't want to give away the whole movie! In the end there's a shocker and some characters don't make it, but it embodies the whole AIM. It's hard, and it's about fighting against a government that wanted to exterminate us since its founding.

How did French director Cyril Morin handle the AIM-related material?

He pretty much does only movies with a cause. He felt compelled to do this because it was a story that seems to be forgotten. It's also about love, politics, and sacrifice. I got to work with him a little bit in the studio for the soundtrack, so you get to hear some of my music. [Michael Spears and his brother Eddie play in the Bear Canyon drum group. --Ed.]

Can you tell about your character, Bud "One Bull" Ward?

He embodies The Activist. He starts off as a rebel, and later you find out that he started an Indian immersion school and had that taken away from him. As a result he turns to the American Indian Movement as way to fight the problems that existed at Pine Ridge prior to 1973.

He's pretty raw, and I can relate to the character. You can see a little bit of me in the character. He's fierce, he doesn't take no shit, and yet he has a calm about him at times that turns inward and doesn't let a lot of emotions out. At the end of the film, you can see some of those raw emotions come out. I'm pretty proud of the film.

PATRICE CARRE (Cine+ / Cinecourts)

Voilà un film qui nous plonge sans esbrouffe dans les coulisses d'une période récente de l'histoire américaine quelque peu occultée. Nous sommes en février 1973 et les militants de l'American Indian Movement commencent à Wounded Knee, dans le Dakota du Sud, un face à face tendu avec les forces de l'ordre qui va durer plus de 70 jours. En cause, leurs droits et leurs terres, question toujours en suspens depuis la fin des dernières guerres indiennes en 1890. Mais ce n'est pas l'affrontement en lui même que choisit de filmer Cyril Morin. Ce qui l'intéresse c'est de nous raconter la détention de deux activistes indiens dans un petit poste isolé. Un huis clos en forme de décor de western qui résume à lui seul les tensions et les enjeux du moment. Entre menaces et tentatives de manipulations les 2 hommes vont tenir bon, jusqu'à un dénouement particulièrement inattendu. La mise en scène serrée, qui ne faiblit jamais, s'appuie sur une formidable troupe d'acteurs, en tête desquels on retrouve Chadwick E. Brown et Michael Spears ainsi que Circus- Szalewski, dans le rôle d'un shérif dont les certitudes vont peu à peu vaciller. Un film épuré et efficace, particulièrement contemporain en dépit de son ancrage historique.

Livexlovexlindsey (2013 Cannes Festival)
MAY 2013

The Activist is an inspiring film that makes you feel as if you are going somewhere, even though the majority of the film is based within a jail cell. Written and directed by Cyril Morin, known mostly for his 2001 film Samsara, did a captivating job putting this story into images. The two main characters Marvin and Bud, played by Marvin Brown and Michael Spears, engaged in their roles effortlessly. These Native American activists are sent to jail, after the unexplained death of Marvin's wife, in the middle of nowhere and begin to question the reasoning. With a brutal officer guarding their every move and Nixon's representatives trying to make negotiations to end the Native American riots, their survival becomes an uncertain dispute.

PASCAL HENRY (Cineserenade)

Déjà réalisateur de plusieurs courts métrages, le compositeur Cyril MORIN (SAMSARA de Pan NALIN, la première saison de la série BORGIA) signe son premier long métrage. Et le moins que l'on puisse dire c'est qu'il n'a pas choisi la facilité en traitant d'un sujet difficile, qui touche à la culture indienne et aux combats d'un peuple qui l'a toujours passionné. L'action se déroule en 1973, pendant l'insurrection de Wounded Knee, un village occupé pendant 72 jours par près de 300 Sioux Oglala et des sympathisants de la cause indienne. Marvin et Bud, deux activistes Indiens, sont mis en détention. Anna, la femme de Marvin est morte quelques mois plus tôt dans un accident. Marvin est dévasté et Bud soutient son ami dans cette épreuve. Mais en prison, ils doivent faire face à la menace des deux policiers qui les surveillent et collaborer avec la jeune avocate chargée du dossier. Et aussi aux nombreuses questions soulevées par les visites d'un conseiller de Nixon, d'un sénateur, d'une star Hollywoodienne et surtout à la teneur du secret que détenait Anna avant de mourir. La première qualité du film de Cyril MORIN tient d'abord de son scénario qui, quoique basé sur des faits réels, réserve son lot de surprises, de rebondissements. Et ce jusqu'à la dernière minute du film qui, du coup, en devient bouleversant tout en transmettant une image réelle des dégâts de l'insurrection de Wounded Knee. Ensuite, le cinéaste s'est concentré sur quelques personnages mais des rôles forts, des hommes de caractères, souvent blessés dans leurs âmes intérieures ; des blessures parfaitement rendues par le jeu des comédiens, renforcé par le décor en huis clos d'un commissariat qui fait office de prison. Au-delà de ces personnages, le film de Cyril MORIN se révèle une étude passionnante des années 1970 et plus particulièrement des Etats-Unis des années Nixon. On connaissait Cyril MORIN comme compositeur de musiques de films qui compte dans le paysage français et au-delà ; on prend un vrai plaisir à découvrir ses premiers pas de metteur en scène. Plus que jamais, Cyril MORIN s'affirme donc comme un artiste complet !