In Waterbuster, old wounds are reopened when director J. Carlos Peinado revisits the upper Missouri River basin in North Dakota in order to come to grips with the death of his grandmother. There he investigates how the massive post-war Garrison Dam project laid waste to an idyllic, self-sufficient Native American community, flooding 156,000 acres of their land. Through the use of interviews and some amazing 8 mm and 16 mm period footage, we are transported back in time to the Fort Berthold Reservation town of Elbowoods, where members of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation lived their lives in relative peace and prosperity. But all that changed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to Congress that the Missouri River be harnessed for flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and barge traffic through the construction of six enormous dams from South Dakota to Montana. The Garrison Dam was the largest of the six, and it displaced nearly 4,000 people from the reservation, forever depriving them of ties to their ancestral land, culture, and identity. To add insult to injury, the displaced people then discover that the Army Corps was never interested in upholding their promise of returning 1 million acres of irrigated land to local residents. Rather, the entire dam project was undertaken to benefit those living downstream, with flood control and barge traffic the main concerns. The consequences of this policy were disastrous for the three tribes, whose members found themselves scattered throughout the American West, with no more roots from which to derive strength. Copresented by the National Museum of the American Indian.
J. Carlos Peinado attended Phillips Exeter Academy and completed his undergraduate degree in filmmaking and cultural anthropology at Dartmouth College. During this time, he completed his first documentary, Harry's House, a film about the Hopi and Navajo land dispute in northern Arizona. In 1992, Peinado moved to New York City and pursued careers as a filmmaker and an actor. He was in TNT's The Broken Chain and Crazy Horse. He has been actively involved in the Native American community and was the Public Relations Coordinator for the American Indian Community House, an award winning creative director for Native Peoples Magazine, and the MIS Director for NDNS4Wellness, a nonprofit health center for at-risk Native American youth. Through Waterbuster, Peinado hopes to tell the stories of his ancestors and honor his American Indian heritage.