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Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers

COWBOYS, INDIANS and LAWYERS follows the fortunes of two enemy camps as they struggle over the fate of the free-flowing Animas River in Colorado. A dam project called ALP was authorized by Congress over 30 years ago to help white farmers irrigate desert lands, but has never been built. The filmmaker, a former New Yorker, becomes obsessed with ALP as she learns the dam is tied to massive development plans including coal mines, power plants, and housing developments. With the Southern Ute Indian tribe recruited as a key promoter, Sage Remington--a radical Southern Ute activist-- pits himself against his own tribal government and their politically connected lawyer, Sam Maynes. While Sam's friendship with the tribal chairman helps solidify the tribe's alliance with developers, Sage finds allies in a ragtag group of white environmentalists.

Can a multicultural alliance of determined activists stop a dam supported by the biggest development interests in the Southwest? In an intimate portrait of pork barrel politics, COWBOYS, INDIANS and LAWYERS bears witness as these unlikely nemeses bring their case to the halls of Congress, revealing the rich complexities of American politics and Anglo-Indian relations through a rural community's battle over money, power and water.

'This is the quintessential American West -- a heavily-subsidized, environmental boondoggle of a water project that also brings long-overdue justice to Indian people and irrigation water to hardscrabble farmers on a parched landscape. COWBOYS, INDIANS, and LAWYERS presents the tangled and compelling saga of the Animas-LaPlata Project through the words and visions of the diverse and colorful westerners at the heart of this epic controversy. And there is no gloss here -- this is the true story, fairly told and utterly authentic.' Charles Wilkinson, Moses Lasky Professor of Law at the University of Colorado

'Julia Dengel's clear examination of the infamous Animas-La Plata project rushes along like the river itself. Her splendid photography reminds us that the landscape surrounds us and we have the power to destroy it bit by bit. The larger Western fight over water is illuminated in searing detail. This is an intelligent documentary, well told, and clear as a mountain lake.' Judith Reynolds, Durango Telegraph

'Dengel's real interest, and the payoff for the viewer, lies in the closeups. The characters involved are at least as fascinating as the political story. What results is a treatment that reveals much about private human motivations and how they attach themselves to a public cause.' Mike Clark, Durango Herald

'Julia Dengel gets at the heart of western water conflicts: competing points of view that are passionately defended by diverse groups who sometimes form surprising alliances. While not attempting to mask her own personal stance, Dengel presents the reasoning behind both sides of the debate. Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers can be used to provoke discussion in classes on political ecology, environmental studies, cultural anthropology, studies of the southwest and American Indian studies, among others.' Karen Pennesi, Research Associate, CLIMAS, University of Arizona

'By carefully weaving the many threads of this narrative into a compelling drama, [the filmmaker] succeeds in presenting an informative account of a riveting situation that is being replayed in many rural areas across the West.' School Library Journal

'Cowboys, Indians and Lawyers is an informed and informative documentary...especially recommended viewing for students of Native American studies, environmental studies, and political science.' Midwest Book Review


Main credits

Dengel, Julia (film producer)
Dengel, Julia (film director)
Dengel, Julia (screenwriter)
Dengel, Julia (narrator)
Oppenheim, Jonathan (film director)
Oppenheim, Jonathan (editor of moving image work)

Other credits

Producer, writer, director, Julia Dengel; co-director and editor, Jonathan Oppenheim.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Democracy
American Studies
Business Practices
Native Americans
Political Science
Pork Barrel Projects
Urban and Regional Planning
Western US


pork-barrel project, dam, Animas River, Colorado, ALP, Congress, farmers, irrigation, development plans, coal mines, power plants, housing developments, Southern Ute, Sage Remington, tribal government, Sam Maynes, deveolpment interests, Southwest, American politics, rural community battle, money, power, water; "Cowboys, Indians, and Lawyers"; Bullfrog Films

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