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July 4, 2020

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Indie film returns to Vancouver, which helped put it on the map

Quiet Native American film 'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' became a whopping success, against all odds

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
5 Photos
“I will never film a more beautiful face. He is pure magic to look at,” said director Steven Lewis Simpson.
“I will never film a more beautiful face. He is pure magic to look at,” said director Steven Lewis Simpson. The late Dave Bald Eagle, a Lakota elder, was 95 years old when he starred in Simpson’s “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.” (Roaring Fire Films) Photo Gallery

A unique cinematic look at contemporary Lakota country that has enjoyed startling success — thanks in part to a great summer June 2017 run at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre and related press coverage, its makers say — returns Sunday night for a special anniversary screening.

The anniversary is the 100th birthday of the late Dave Bald Eagle, who was 95 years old when he co-starred in “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” and who died at age 97, just before the film was released.

The film had a strong opening week in January 2017 in Minneapolis, according to a statement from InYo Entertainment, “but it was in Vancouver, WA, where the film out-grossed 11 of the 12 summer blockbusters playing in town. It was one of two best-performing films of the year at the (Kiggins) theater and was extended for three weeks.”

Based on a classic 1994 novel by Kent Nerburn, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” tells the unlikely tale of a white writer who is drawn, despite himself, into the heart of Lakota country so he can write a fresh, honest, cliche-free book about American Indians.

The writer (played by Christopher Sweeney, a white actor born on the Yakama Indian Reservation) endures a bumpy ride along the way, but the soul of his project remains steadfast. That soul is Dave Bald Eagle, whose character drives the story and who improvised a climactic speech when filming at Wounded Knee, where his own ancestors were massacred in 1890.

If You Go

What: Screening of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.”

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

Tickets: $7 in advance, $10 day of show.

Learn more: https://www.kigginstheatre.com, http://neitherwolfnordogfilm.com

TEDx Talk on YouTube

Filmmaker Steven Lewis Simpson gives a TEDx talk about independent film distribution and “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” at https://bit.ly/2WmQmsL

“We abandoned the script, and he and Chris improvised the whole thing,” said director Steven Lewis Simpson. “It was beyond moving, and I could never imagine filming anything more important in my career.”

Dave Bald Eagle’s life was like a Hollywood movie. Born in a teepee in 1919, he was a wounded D-Day paratrooper, race-car driver, drummer, competitive ballroom dancer, movie stunt man and character actor. When he died, National Public Radio labeled him “The most interesting man in the world.”

In 2017, Simpson raved about Dave Bald Eagle’s amazingly weathered, authoritative screen presence: “I will never film a more beautiful face. He is pure magic to look at.”

This year, he said, “It is lovely that the Kiggins is … doing a special event to celebrate what would have been our star’s 100th birthday” on April 8.

Unexpected success

According to Simpson, the low-budget “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” has become an unexpected smash. It opened on Jan. 20, 2017, and has been showing nearly continuously in theaters ever since. That’s a run of 113 weeks so far (except for a few brief breaks, mostly during “blockbuster-heavy” times like Christmas), Simpson said.

That makes it a record-setter, according to its backer, InYo Entertainment. “The independent film has broken records by being in U.S. theaters longer than any other movie released in a decade,” said InYo’s Omotola Lajubutu.

The longest-running films currently listed by industry tracker Box Office Mojo are “The Wife” at 31 weeks, “Free Solo” at 25 weeks and “A Star is Born” at 24 weeks. “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” would top that list by a long shot, Simpson said, except that it costs $12,500 to participate. “Crazy expensive” for independent filmmakers, he said.

In Vancouver, the summer 2017 blockbuster “Wonder Woman” was the only film showing nearby at Regal’s City Center 12 that “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” didn’t outgross. After that, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” ended up getting booked by a load of cinemas in the region as they saw how it did in Vancouver,” Simpson said.

He added that the success was also driven by this newspaper’s preview, “as it was the only media coverage that we had.”

“National media is bombarded with everything,” Simpson told Box Office. “Whereas we just go directly to these small-town papers and get immense coverage.”

“It’s been an amazing David vs. Goliath story,” Lajubutu said, “totally reliant on support from communities requesting, sharing and attending the film.”

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