MIAMI – 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog,' is a film with an important and relevant message. A week-long opportunity to see the Native American film, 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog,' is beginning Aug. 31 at the Miami Cineplex Theater.
The film is based on the award-winning novel by Kent Nerburn and features a standout performance by elder Dave Bald Eagle who was 95-years old during the time of filming playing the main character Dan, and Oklahoma native actor, Richard Ray Whitman, who portrays his friend Grover. The film is directed and produced by Steven Lewis Simpson, an award-winning British director best known for his Native American feature movies and documentaries.
The film has received a higher audience rating than any current blockbuster, according to the film’s promotion team.
The film revolves around a white writer, played by Christopher Sweeney, summoned by a Native American Lakota elder who asks him to write a book based on a shoebox of notes of insights of Native American history written from the Native point of view. After a serious endeavor and failed start heavily criticized by Dan and Grover, the author is tricked into a road trip and emotional journey through the heart of the contemporary Native American landscape ending at the historically sacred ground of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 where the stunning climax of the movie was filmed.
'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' has received a “ 4. 7 to five” rating from Rotten Tomatoes and has received critical acclaim for the message viewers are left with that transcends even the novel's aim.
The small, self-distributed independent film is competing with Hollywood blockbusters and even more remarkably outperforming many as well, according to In Yo Entertainment the film's distributor.
A grassroots effort has propelled the film's audience reception, having been shot with a crew of only two, it has impressively played in more than 150 theaters from just around 15 percent of the U.S. market so far. The film was shot in just 18 days.
“Every time we get a new theater to show the film, it's this thing of going from zero to bringing in an audience every occasion,” Simpson said. “The interesting thing about it is, it's a film that captures people's hearts. At the core of the film, the audience goes in and they laugh and they cry and they come out and they feel like they've gone through quite an emotional journey and in some cases, they feel changed by it. ”
Simpson is pleased with the film's reception and the audience response and reaction and feels Hollywood has forgotten to strive for such important goals in filmmaking. Simpson credits the film's leading role actor, Dave Bald Eagle, who portrayed the film’s main character.
Bald Eagle died two years after the filming, but according to Director Simpson, embraced the character he portrayed exceeding all expectations.
“Dave Bald Eagle is just capturing people's hearts. He was this person in real life and more, and he just had this magic about him. That's the beauty about his narrative, it deals with some challenging issues, but the thing about it is the audience are so connected with him, for example when the film ends at Wounded Knee and there's this climactic scene there, the audience's heart is open to hear him and they hear in a different way then if it was a documentary, because he in a sense is playing an extended version of himself,” Simpson said.
In his impressive lifetime, Bald Eagle was a World War II paratrooper gunned down on D-Day, a champion ballroom dancer, racecar driver, skydiver, semi-pro baseball player, pro rodeo bronc and bull rider, and a stuntman and actor in several movies in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Bald Eagle was also a descendant of ancestors at the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
During the filming of the scene at Wounded Knee, Simpson threw away the script and asked Bald Eagle to improvise, he said, because Dave in his own life was closer to the events at Wounded Knee than the character he was playing.
“At the end of this very powerful moving scene, he turned to his co-star and said, 'I've been holding that in for 95 years.'” Simpson said. “This was Dave's first starring role, he's never had a role near this big. He was fearless.”
Simpson said he and the novel's author differ on their beliefs in the relationship between Indian and non-Indian Americans, with Nerburn believing that there will always be a shadow between them, and Simpson believing common humanity is greater than any historical shadow.
“It was a very different journey in a sense,” Simpson said. “Our experiences are very different...we Europeans don't always experience it in the same way.”
Simpson has spent a considerable amount of time on the Pine Ridge reservation and says he has a good working relationship with many Native tribes.
“The most important scene in the film is based on trust, Dave trusted us all to go to that tough place,” Simpson said.
Simpson also credits Whitman's energy on set and commitment to the film as an important artistic endeavor and to serve Bald Eagle's legacy as another reason for the film’s positive reception.
Simpson said the novel's message drew him in after being approached by Nerburn and in developing the screenplay the message evolved because of the transcending message it conveyed.
“It's a funny thing because for me I'm not terribly interested in Native American culture. I'm interested in people. For me, it was based around social justice and there's a constant sense of cultural denial,” Simpson said.
Simpson said the film industry has historically given injustice to the portrayal of Native Americans.
“ A lot of times people ask how do I approach things from a cultural standpoint particularly being non – Native. To me, if I approach the film from a cultural standpoint I've already failed because my job is always to my characters, and my characters are individual. So my job is to create the fullest characters possible. More than anything I’ve done in my life I've exceeded in his film because Dave is more than I ever dreamt for Dan on the screen, and more than Ken Nerburn ever dreamt of,” he said.
Filmgoers’ feedback, according to Simpson, relates mostly to Bald Eagle’s character as a familiar family member or friend.
“They say he felt like this grandpa that I knew or uncle that I knew, and it’s always individuals they relate to, they never relate to the collective and that’s when I know I did it right,” he said.
Simpson said small town media has supported the film, and the film’s distribution in Native and Tribally owned theaters has made the success of the film something very special.
“I’m very appreciative of that,” he said. “The joy for me is when I hear of theaters packed with both Natives and non-Natives and often in areas where there are tensions. I remember in a theater we were in Minnesota this elder Ojibwa lady posted a comment saying how much she loved the film, but when she got up to leave at the end she turned back. She said she looked back at the white people in the audience and looked at their faces and she could just see how deeply moved they had been and how happy that made her feel. That’s a beautiful thing.”
The films massive opening week at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis had more admissions than the film with the top screen average in the U.S.
Oklahoma Film Critics Society’s Louis Fowler named 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' the number one film of 2017. It's been an amazing David vs. Goliath story, totally reliant on the communities which have supported the film.
'Neither Wolf Nor Dog,' will be shown at 4:30 p.m., 7:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. beginning Aug. 31 at the Miami Cineplex Theater located at 222 North Main Street in Miami.