Steven Lewis Simpson talks about creating an authentic narrative in his film ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’
Filmmaker Steven Lewis Simpson’s latest project, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” offers its audience the opportunity to slow down and listen.
The film is an adaptation of author Kent Nerburn’s award-winning 1994 book of the same name. The movie follows Kent Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney), who has been tasked with writing a book based on the life and experiences of a Lakota Elder named Dan (Dave Bald Eagle). Over the course of the film’s 110 minutes, it gives the audience a realistic portrayal of an important Native American narrative — the type of narrative that is often overlooked in larger-budget Hollywood pictures.
“This was about intimacy,” Simpson said, speaking about the film’s low-budget, independent style. He filmed “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” over the span of just 18 days without the benefit of a large crew. Most of the time, Simpson worked with only two people behind the camera. “[This] allowed an intimacy in the performance that would have been hard with a crew,” he said.
That performance belongs to Dave Bald Eagle, a Lakota Elder who was 95 during the filming of this movie. He has since passed away. Bald Eagle carries this story and benefits from the film’s bare-bones production style. The result is an honest and emotional portrait that is often shockingly close to reality.
“In some respects, he was even more the character than the character,” Simpson said. “There was nothing that Dave could have come out with that would have been inaccurate.”
During the film’s climax, Dan brings Nerburn to a mass grave and memorial for the lives of those lost in the Wounded Knee Massacre. Bald Eagle improvised his own lines.
“Wounded Knee is front and center and is symbolic of so many things within Indian country,” Simpson said. “To have such a noted Elder go to that place, and for that to be documented for a long time to come, is culturally significant in itself — regardless of whether the film is good or bad.”
The film has garnered a warm reception, and Simpson has been pleasantly surprised at the success of its distribution. “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” played in smaller towns until it began to open up at larger theaters in various parts of the country. “We’re almost like a virus covering the U.S.,” Simpson said. “It’s sort of slowly building from one part to another.”
But most importantly, the film resonates with its viewers. “I’m consistently hearing of audiences that are still in their seats after the credits, just absorbing it all,” Simpson said. “There is a place that the audience can go with this film emotionally, where a lot of big films might leave them cold.”
For those willing to be present, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” offers an important and deeply moving experience that will be relevant for a long time to come.
“For a short time in a darkened room Dave transports people somewhere,” Simpson said. “I think some people leave looking at the world in a slightly different way.”
The film recently opened at the Broadway Metro in Eugene. It will play through Sept. 28. For more information and tickets, visit the Broadway Metro at 43 W. Broadway or call 541-686-2458.
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