By Alyssa Kelly
RONAN — Who is fit to tell the story of a tribal elder? The independent film “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” brought viewers through a road trip set in Pine Ridge, South Dakota to answer this question.
The film follows a Lakota elder named Dan who reaches out to a white writer named Kent Nerburn to turn a box of handwritten notes into a novel about his life experience. “Make me sound like I went to Haskell,” Dan said of his challenge to Nerburn.
Caked in his own perception, Nerburn is thrown into an impromptu road trip across the reservation with Dan and his friend Grover, a Lakota man skeptical of Nerburn’s ability to connect with the tribal elder let alone provide an avenue to for his story to be heard.
Watch the trailer below:
Based on the best selling novel “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” written by Kent Nerburn, the film has been defying the odds of Hollywood having a longer theatrical run than any other US movie in 2017. The showing extended to the Flathead Reservation recently by being featured at the Showboat theatre in Polson.
Adding to the unlikelihood of its success, Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson said the low-budget film was shot in 18 days with a crew of less than 20 people. “The success of this film is really credited to the people who are coming out to support it,” he said. “We’ve shown in over 140 theatres with no marketing budget. It’s really defying the Hollywood norms.”
Having directed multiple projects on the Pine Ridge reservation, Lewis Simpson said he is often asked about the cross-cultural barriers of filmmaking. “As a Scottish filmmaker, if I focused on the cultural aspect of a film about Native Americans, I would have immediately failed,” he said. “We put significant focus on casting the right people so the cultural and personal components naturally fall into place. That’s where Hollywood messes up. They aren’t focused on individuality and end up creating these one-dimensional characters.”
Making his debut as the lead was 95-year-old Dave Bald Eagle, a Lakota chief and musician who played the character Dan. Lewis Simpson said Bald Eagle set the cultural tone and pace of the film. “Dave embodied his character so well that in the climax scene at Wounded Knee, he improvised, meaning he spoke without reading lines,” he said. “It turned out that he had even closer ties to the events of Wounded Knee than even the character in the story; Dave had relatives who were there. He told the audience at a screening that he had held in that discussion for 95-years of his life and it felt good to have an avenue to be heard.” Bald Eagle passed away in 2016.
Another break out star was Richard Ray White Man who played Dan’s sidekick Grover. “Richard was actually the most experienced actor in our cast,” he said. “Throughout the screenings we’ve heard audience members say that he reminded them of someone they knew personally and that’s how you know you got it right. We aren’t here to portray a Lakota elder or a Lakota man, we’re here to portray an individual. That’s what the audience responds to.”
Neither Wolf Nor Dog will continue its tour of screenings throughout the Northwest and has reached overseas theaters in Europe. Lewis Simpson said the success of Native American films would depend on its support. “We’ve had showings in Havre and Whitefish where we’ve outsold bigger blockbuster films so there is definitely an interest in the genre of films about Native Americans,” he said. “Community support is so important for getting works out there. We need a variety in filmmaking period. It’s so important.”
For more information on the film “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” visit: http://neitherwolfnordogfilm.com