It has taken twenty years for the bestselling novel, Neither Wolf Nor Dog to get made. And Indian Country was the venue as the independent film opened up Friday February 24 at the Yakama Nation Heritage Theater in Toppenish, WA, in theaters in Bemidji and Rochester, MN, and in South Dakota, where much of the film is set. These were the four sites to host the film’s theatrical premiere and they provided a very successful opening as the film was held over for another week at most of the venues.
Based on Kent Nerburn’s 1996 bestselling novel of the same name, Neither Wolf Nor Dog is the story of a well-meaning white writer (Nerburn himself, played by Christopher Sweeney) who is drawn into Native culture when a Lakota elder asks him to turn a box full of notes into a book. The elder -- a man named Dan is played by 95-year-old David Bald Eagle -- uses the opportunity to poke holes in Nerburn’s -- and the audience’s -- assumptions about Native people.
David Bald Eagle walked on his journey to the spirit world this past July at age 97, but was able to view the film and said, “It's the only film I’ve been in about my people that told the truth.”
This is Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson's third feature film made in South Dakota. Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault, Tatanka Means, Zahn McClarnon (seen in ‘Fargo’, ‘Longmire’ and ‘Mekko’) and newcomer, Harlen Standing Bear Sr. make up the rest of the outstanding cast.
"I've tried to make sure that places that have significance to the film don't have to wait a long time to see it," said Simpson. "It needs to be seen where it was made, and it needs to be seen around the communities and around the people who are involved in it."
Simpson ran a grassroots operation distribution, telling indie filmmakers on Facebook how he self-distributed, hand delivered prints and paid an absolute minimum for a Facebook ad, as Neither Wolf Nor Dog premiered in 3 states. It’s successful opening now sets the stage as the initial audience ratings should help for a wider release around the nation.
In the multiplexes that showed Neither Wolf Nor Dog, the competition was all Hollywood films of the moment, and Simpson’s beat them all comfortably, only the top 3 films in the US that weekend had a better screen average attendance. And it was all word of mouth, local media, grassroots support and very much with the help of Facebook. The audiences have given the film a 9.3/10 rating on IMDB so far and the reports from people have been extremely complimentary
“Reaction to the film has been incredible.,” Simpson said to ICMN. “Reports of applause at the end of the film and people being rooted to their seats after the lights had come back on. A great mix between Native and non-native audiences. People have driven from as far as 300 miles away to see it.”
The films world premiere was at the oldest continuously running film festival in the world, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it's first review was 5 stars, receiving an incredible audience and critical response. And fans of Nerburn’s novel gave the film a standing ovation at a special South Dakota Book Festival screening.
The film shows the beauty, tragedy, humor and power of Lakota Country and both Natives and non-Natives have appreciated the book and now the film. Neither Wolf Nor Dog became known as “the great unmade Native American novel” in Hollywood as producers tried and failed to produce it for over twenty years.
Simpson was approached by the author seven-years-ago. “I took almost a year to commit to Kent that I'd board the project because when I do, I keep moving forward till the film is made by any means necessary.”
Kent Nerburn, author of Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and its follow up titles, The Wolf At Twilight (2009) and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo (2013), had this to say about the film in a release.
“Yes, Steven changed the book. Yes, he adapted it; yes, he augmented it. But he nailed it. The choices he made were exquisite. His film is at once different from the book and better than the book. In an act of astonishing creative transformation, one stubborn, incredibly talented man with a camera did something I did not think was possible: he made a completely new work of art that honored the original work of art while carrying it to a new level. He took my literary child and made a man of it.”
“We didn’t need to rely on the industry,” said Simpson. “We raised funding from fans by Kickstarter and social media. I bought and then sold some equipment. I've not needed any side of the conventional film industry to get the film to this point. All the technical work I did without hiring any service from outside. Including delivering the film to theaters. Now it is all about getting it out into more theaters.”
The film is now available for screenings set up in multiplexes around the country through the films listing on Tugg.
People can follow the film on that page and be notified of screenings or they can set up a Tugg screening through the site and even earn a 5% commission on the tickets sold. NWND is also scheduled in the upcoming weeks for Cresco Opera House in Iowa; Detroit Lakes, MN; Vogue Theatre, Manistee, MN; Alamo Drafthouse Theatre, Winchester, VA; El Paso, TX; South Bend, IN; Danville, NC; Austin, TX; and several other sites being set up in southern California, the Midwest, the East Coast and New York State.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog Movie Trailer