An independent film about bridging the gap between “white America and the Native American world” is coming to UltraStar Multi-tainment Center Jan. 12 for at least a week.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog, an adaptation of the novel by Kent Nerburn, stars legendary Dave Bald Eagle as a Lakota elder who brings a white author into South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation culture. This is not your average road-trip movie.
“It is very much from the reservation out rather than from Hollywood in,” said director Steven Lewis Simpson, a Scot who has lived in Lakota country for 18 years documenting native stories.
Bald Eagle was 95 when the film was shot. He died in 2016 at the age of 97. Bald Eagle’s relatives were at the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 and Wounded Knee in 1890, and he absorbed their stories. He was a paratrooper during World War II (left for dead at Normandy), a champion ballroom dancer, stuntman, professional athlete, actor, educator and tribal chief.
Simpson said he brought more to the role than could be written in the novel or screenplay. “Dave had a closer relationship with Wounded Knee even than the character he plays,” he said.
Because of that, Simpson set up scenes, encouraged improvised dialogue and “got out of the way.” After shooting a pivotal scene at the end of the film when the characters end up at Wounded Knee, Bald Eagle told Simpson, “I’ve been holding that in for 95 years.”
Another actor was involved in a 1973 incident at Wounded Knee along with activist Russell Means, who brought Simpson in to film Neither Wolf Nor Dog. But the story is more relatable than resentful and has a “shocking” amount of quiet humor, Simpson said.
With a small budget for filming and distributing, Simpson took a different path than is the Hollywood norm. It was a crowdfunded project. Most of the screening locations have been at theaters owned by Native American enterprises. Word-of-mouth was spread primarily through social media. Movie-goers have scored it 95 percent positive on RottenTomatoes.com, and IMDB.com reviewers scored it an 8.2 out of 10.
Now Simpson is trying the same distribution tactic in Europe. “We have to work it very, very hard, but we’ve done better than the film that won Cannes last year.”
This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.