“When white people won, it was victory. When we won, it was a massacre.” Based on Kent Nerburn’s 1996 bestselling novel, ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’ tells the story about how the white author begins his journey discovering Native American culture and its history. Kent (Christopher Sweeney) gets a phone call asking for his help to turn a box full of notes into a book. The Lakota elder is played by a man named Dan (95-year-old Chief Dave Bald Eagle). It’s a slow burning tale that enlightens Kent on dropping his stereotypes about what he thinks he knows about Native American people. The film was crowdfunded and is truly a passion project for Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson who nails the source material in a low-budget indie filmmaking style.
Kent drives 1,000 miles in a beat-up truck from Minnesota to South Dakota. When he first arrives, he’s reluctant to take on the project. He makes excuses that he is not qualified to tell Dan’s story. It’s not until Kent’s truck breaks down and Dan’s sarcastic friend Grover (Richard Ray Whitman) shows up in an old muscle car that the road trip hits cruise control. Many of the film sequences are shot with the camera mounted on the car. You feel like you are there with the three men as they travel through the Native American landscape. The film was actually shot on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One of the most memorable scenes takes place at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre where over 150 men, women and children were killed by the 7th U.S. Cavalry.
The film was shot in 18 days which is breakneck speed for any film production. As the film was getting closer to its release date, Dave Bald Eagle actually passed away at the age of 97. He was able to view the film before he died and said, “It’s the only film I’ve been in about my people that told the truth.” When you see the majestic Badlands of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, you get a sense of how difficult life must have been for the Lakota people. Dave gives a wonderfully honest performance as the wise elder. You can see the pain on his face when he talks about the hard times that his people had to endure. Another powerful scene deals with the men stopping for coffee at a roadside café. A drunken man comes to their table begging for spare change. It illustrates how some of the people on the reservation have fallen through society’s cracks.
‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’ is at its best when the three men are driving through Lakota country. We get to hear more stories from the box of papers as Dan and Kent begin to trust each other. Since Kent’s father recently died, you get the sense that this is a cathartic journey for him. He finally listens to Dan’s stories and gets to understand the indigenous people beyond the stereotypes constantly portrayed by Hollywood. Simpson is also effective in capturing the rundown living conditions on the reservation. Dave Bald Eagle as the wise old man and Christopher Sweeney as the reluctant writer both shine in their performances and show a genuine chemistry on screen. ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’ takes the audience to the heart of the Native American experience. It opens at The Flicks in Boise on 9/22 and a local art house theater near you soon.