Synopsis by Mark Deming
A man struggles to come to terms with his past as he investigates a crime committed against his people in this documentary. Filmmaker Juan Carlos Peinado returns to his family's former home in North Dakota to honor the death of his grandmother, and uses her story as a backdrop for examining how the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation of Native Americans were driven from their land in the early '50s. At that time, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota was one of the most successful in the United States, with agricultural projects bringing in a steady and solid income for its people while they were able to retain a firm hold on their native language and traditions. This came to an end when the Army Corps of Engineers were called in to deal with flooding along the Missouri River, which was causing serious problems for North Dakota's farmers. It was determined that a series of dams were needed, which would result in a man-made lake that would stop the flooding; while there were a number of places where the dams could be effectively placed, the ACE chose to build them so that 156,000 acres of the Fort Berthold Reservation would be submerged, effectively destroying the reservation and displacing the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation. While the dam project violated a number of treaties protecting the reservation, the project went through, and what once was a thriving Native American community is now an artificial lake, which thanks to silt problems has lost its appeal as a tourist attraction. Waterbuster was the first feature film from Juan Carlos Peinado, and received its premiere at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.