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'Neither Wolf Nor Dog' offers insight into contemporary Indigenous life

If you’re looking for something a little different than your usual Netflix binges, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” could be for you.

The film follows a white author who is sucked into a road trip through the heart of Native American Country by a Lakota elder and his best friend. It offers viewers a deeper understanding of contemporary Native American life through the imparted wisdom of the elder.

The film has been out for about four years now and for a micro-budget, non-Hollywood film, it’s still going strong today.

Director Steven Lewis Simpson says it’s because of the way it resonates with people, driven by the central character Dave Bald Eagle, who plays the role of the Lakota Elder, known only as Dan. 

“The audience is just falling madly in love with Dave Bald Eagle, an essential performance in this film,” says Simpson. “He takes the audience into a very deep place.”

Consider Dan’s advice to Kent Nerburn on writing:

“The world is not an accident. We don't always get to choose our parts. I called you and you came. If you're too small or too weak, it is too late. The Creator has given you a task. You don't get to turn back just because you want to.”

Simpson says central to Neither Wolf Nor Dog’s relevance is the need to deeply listen.

“The story is inspired by a real experience of the author Kent Nerburn and his novel after a native elder approached him about distilling a lot of his own thoughts down into a book,” says Simpson. “But then Nerburn thought, ‘to make it really come alive for the audience, it’s best to teach through story.’ So he created this narrative structure to draw the audience in and spend time with this elder in a more active way.”

The film addresses having an outsider, a white man, tell the stories of indigenous peoples. 

Simpson says that as the director telling this story he focused more on explaining the rift author Kent Nerburn has with the elder.

“The perspective I brought to this film, which is most distinct is actually more to do with the awkwardness of this white officer than the native characters,” Simpson says. “I'm Scottish and I have a completely different experience in Indian country than most white Americans. I took the real author to meet this elder on a reservation and within 60 seconds, I'm laughing and joking with this elder, we're having a blast, and the author's sitting there trying to not put a foot wrong. He always thinks of the ghost of history on the wall.”

It’s a film that can challenge what we think and know about indigenous life and history.

It’s playing at Marcus Ridge Cinema in New Berlin this week. If you’re uncomfortable attending the cinema due to Covid, you can catch it on Vimeo.