Now playing: Independent movie Neither Wolf Nor Dog creating buzz

October 2017 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Columnists & Opinion, Community

By James Day

The little movie that could is opening Friday, Sept. 15 at the Palace.

Steve Simpson’s self-distributed Neither Wolf Nor Dog, a low-budget picture shot in 18 days on a South Dakota Indian reservation, has been creating buzz all over the Northwest.

Simpson, 47, is a Scottish filmmaker whose career in documentaries and features has focused mainly on indigenous peoples. Neither Wolf Nor Dog tells the story of a white man learning to understand the Lakota people.

NWND’s success has mostly been driven by the thirst of the audience for a deeper cultural and emotional experience that the film has and most others don’t,” Simpson told Our Town in an email interview. “Many find it an unforgettable experience and want to share it with others because of it.”

The movie has at its center the performance of Lakota elder Dave Bald Eagle in the first starring role of an amazing career – both in and out of film – that included landing at D-Day with the 82nd Airborne, stints as a race car driver and a ballroom dancer as well as movie stunt work with Errol Flynn and John Wayne and serving as an extra in Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves.

And in one of the poignant side stories of the journey the movie has taken, Bald Eagle, who was 95 when it was shot in October 2014, died before it reached the screen.

“Dave is the heart and soul of the film and he jumped into the production with both feet even though it was his first-ever starring role,” Simpson said. “Because of his age we did need to have pretty easy days, but he kept drawing upon an inner strength that kept pulling him through. I’d heard after that he’d been ill leading up to it and could hardly walk and yet walked a lot during filming as he just kicked everything up a few gears. It was pretty miraculous.”

The movie is based on the 1994 Minnesota Book Award-winning novel by Kent Nerburn, who had been attempting to get it onto the screen for 17 years when he hooked up with Simpson at a showing of the director’s Rez Bomb at a theater near Pine Ridge. Simpson and Nerburn, who recently moved from the Minnesota woods to Portland, collaborated on the script, with the film ultimately being made using crowd-funding that concentrated on the book’s fan base.

“This was our first experience working together but we had both long experiences in similar worlds to the story,” Simpson said. “Kent’s was more in Ojibwe country and mine was more deeply with the Lakota, where the story was set. But we have entirely different experiences in that world and that helped with my perspective on the story.”

The Palace run, which is scheduled to last through Sept. 21, came about because of the connection the theatre’s booker had with an independent movie house in Vancouver, Wash., that was showing it.

“If all theatres were as easy to deal with as the Palace then we’d be on 1,417 screens around the country (which is how many it would be nationally if we pro-rated the number we’re on in Oregon to a national level),” Simpson said.

“I’ve been very surprised by how the distribution has continued to steadily expand in certain regions. It is impossible to get a film without a major distributor onto 18 screens in Oregon, but we’ve done it. The buzz has been wonderful, though we always knew that it would be hard for the audience not to fall madly in love with Dave’s character on screen. He had that impact on pretty much everyone he met.”

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