A low-budget independent film, which stars a 95-year-old Lakota elder and tackles racism, poverty and the tumultuous history between whites and Native Americans, will come to downtown Decatur next week.
“What is very gratifying is the reports of the dialogue taking place after the film, often in places where there is a lot of tension, like border towns, where there is still a lot of prejudice toward people on the reservation,” said director Steven Lewis Simpson. “This film is helping bring people together and bridge understanding.”
The film, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” will make its Alabama debut at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts on Monday at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $5 for students.
Based on a 1994 autobiographical novel by Kent Nerburn, the film follows a white writer and a Lakota elder, who go on a road trip through the reservation to the Badlands of South Dakota and the site of Wounded Knee, where the U.S. Army killed 300 Lakota men, women and children in 1890.
Shot in 18 days, the audience-financed film, which stars the late Dave Bald Eagle as Dan, Richard Ray Whitman as Dan’s sidekick Grover and Christopher Sweeney as Nerburn, premiered in January 2017 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In the past 2½ years, more than 200 theaters across the United States and Canada have screened the movie.
“The audience is falling madly in love with Dave Bald Eagle. He had this beautiful spirit that was very mischievous and fun. Because of that, people are listening in a different way to this film. They listen through their hearts as well as their head,” Simpson said.
In anticipation of the film’s Alabama debut, Simpson discussed the film’s origin, the response from the Native American community and Dave Bald Eagle’s improvised performance at Wounded Knee.
How did you learn of the novel? The author approached me with it. He had seen a screening of my film “Rez Bomb” and reached out to me to see if I would take on the project. Once I read the book, I gave him my promise that I would get it made by any means necessary.
Why is this a project you wanted to take on? It gave us a great access point to telling the contemporary resonance of the Wounded Knee massacre and the impact it had. Also, I felt, really, this was the last opportunity to put an elder on screen like this because Dave Bald Eagle is one of the last of a particular generation of elders.
What has the response from the Native American community been? The closer we go to the source, the more beautiful the response gets. It’s comforting to know the wider communities within Indian country have been embracing the film. It resonates deeply with people. I think even though Hollywood outputs so many films, you don’t see many films that reflect your part of the world. People are saying this film feels like an authentic part of their experience.
How did you ensure the film depicted authentic Native American experiences and characters? I’ve been going to Pine Ridge for 20 years, so I had strong reference points. And, the cast so understood the characters they were creating. Dave Bald Eagle had a closer connection to Wounded Knee than the character he played. Some of his ancestors were present at Wounded Knee. He improvised the entire climax of the film at Wounded Knee. At the end of filming that sequence, he said, “I’ve been holding that in for 95 years.”