'Neither Wolf Nor Dog': Minnesota-based indie film playing in Detroit Lakes through Thursday
Patrons of Cinemagic Washington Square 7 Theatres in Detroit Lakes will have a rare opportunity this week to view an independent, small-market film — one that has its roots in Minnesota.
"Neither Wolf Nor Dog," a film adaption of author Kent Nerbern's Minnesota Book Award-winning novel of the same name, made its Detroit Lakes debut this Friday, March 10, and will be playing at the local movie theater through Thursday (visit detroitlakes.odysseytheatres.com or call 218-844-5220 for a complete list of show times).
A labor of love that was seven years in the making, "Neither Wolf Nor Dog" was brought to the big screen by Scottish filmmaker Steven Lewis Simpson. It stars Lakota chief David Bald Eagle in his final film role: The actor, cowboy and musician passed away last July at the age of 97.
"Only Dave Bald Eagle could have played Dan," says Simpson, referring to the story's iconic central character, a fan favorite who has appeared in several of Nerbern's books. "He is beyond perfect. Audiences are falling in love with him on screen. He saw (the movie) before he passed and said, it's the only film he's been in about his people that told the truth."
The film also stars Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault, Tatanka Means, Zahn McClamon and newcomer, Harlen Standing Bear Sr.
A veteran filmmaker who has been in the business for over 24 years, Simpson said he beat out a lot of bigger "names" for the honor of bringing Nerbern's book to life precisely because he wasn't attached to a major Hollywood studio.
"It became known as 'the great unmade Native American novel' in Hollywood," says Simpson, as producer after producer tried and failed to adapt the novel to the big screen, for over 20 years. "He'd been having a very frustrating time," Simpson said of Nerbern, who had been approached by a plethora of filmmakers over the years. As a result, the author had become quite jaded about the film industry.
"He (Nerbern) decided he'd rather have someone who could just go out and make it than a lot of promises about some epic thing somewhere down the line," Simpson added, noting that Nerbern had also been impressed by the content of another of his films, "Rez Bomb," which like much of the action in "Neither Wolf Nor Dog," was set on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Simpson himself didn't commit to the project right away after Nerbern approached him.
"I took almost a year to commit to Kent that I'd board the project because when I do, I keep moving forward until the film is made, by any means necessary," he said.
Simpson is quite proud of the finished product, which he says has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
After its premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year, Edinburgh Festivals Magazine writer Caroline Grabbell described it as "a beautifully shot, fragile film which avoids cliche and is never patronising... Dave Bald Eagle brings a veracity and weight to the film that is utterly mesmerising."
Simpson says that "Neither Wolf Nor Dog" has gotten a lot of local, grassroots support from both the Native American and white communities, with many telling him how they had traveled more than an hour out of their way to catch a screening of the film, which has been in limited release thus far.
"We know that we can't compete with a big studio film that's releasing in 4,000 theaters," Simpson said, "but we know we can touch people... the word of mouth has been excellent."
In fact, he added, when the film premiered in Bemidji on Feb. 24, it actually topped the local box office, debuting as the No. 1-selling film on the multiplex's 10 screens in its first week of release.
"It was the David that defeated nine Goliaths," Simpson said.
Another thing that makes his film unique, he added, is that his direct involvement with the film allows for a more one-on-one interaction between the film's audience and its producer.
"We've got a great community supporting this film on our Facebook page," he said. "They seem to have this understanding that there's one person behind the making of this film... they're reaching out to address me directly, and I respond directly. There's an Immediate dialogue going on between filmmaker and audience that I think is relatively unique. "I think that's part of why so many people in the audience have taken up the baton and helped spread the world of the film... (they realize) the money they pay the box office for their ticket, half of that is going directly to recoup the costs of the film being made. It's just an amazing way of bypassing the traditional (marketing) mechanisms."
For more information about the film and its director, please visit the Facebook page for "Neither Wolf Nor Dog," or check out Simpson's blog at www.stevenlewissimpson.com.