Neither Wolf Nor Dog


Reviewed by: Donald Munro

Neither Wolf Nor Dog
"Simpson has a particularly good eye for landscape and colour."

In Steven Lewis Simpson's adaptation of Neither Wolf Nor Dog, Kent Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) is taken on a road trip that challenges his prejudice and preconceptions about Native American culture. In the aftermath of his father's death he receives a phone call from Winonah (Roseanne Supernault). She wants to know if he is the Kent Nerbern who authored a collection of Native American children's folklore. She tells him that her grandfather wants to speak with him, in person (he doesn't use phones). A few days later, after some humming and hawing, Nerbern gets in his perfectly maintained truck and makes the four hundred mile drive to the Pine Ridge reservation.

Nerbern eventually arrives at a rundown shack where Lakota elder Dan (Dave Bald Eagle) lives. Dan has a shoe box full of notes that he wants Nerbern to work up into a book. The task does not go well. Winonah and Kent rub each other up the wrong way from the outset. What Nerbern comes up with fails to capture Dan's voice, it sounds like whiny hippy polemic. Disheartened, Nerbern get in his truck and sets of for home. His truck promptly breaks down, steam spewing from under the bonnet. Stranded, Nerbern is finagled into taking a road trip by Dan and his friend Grover (Richard Ray Whitman).

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Dan's character permeates the entire film. He is full of humour, sometimes cryptic, sometimes profound, sometimes childlike, a little reminiscent of a Hodja story. Dave Bald Eagle's performance can also be intensely moving. The conversation that Dan has with Nerbern at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre is charged with sadness and pain. It is also noteworthy for being improvised. Christopher Sweeney's performance is nicely understated. Once on the road trip he is very much the passenger. Simpson gets good performances out of the supporting cast.

The film is framed by the stunning countryside of Dakota. Simpson has a particularly good eye for landscape and colour. From rolling planes and scrubland to the weirdly formed hills of the Badlands with their pink and gold stratifications, there aren't many places that the film isn't visually interesting.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is an impressive piece of independent film making. Funded by Kickstarter, filmed by a small crew, and independently promoted and distributed, it shows what can be done without studio involvement. If it had been made with a studio then it would have been weighed down with stereotypes and white guilt. It wouldn't have been about the place and the people.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2019
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A Lakota elder takes a journalist on a road trip.
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Director: Steven Lewis Simpson

Writer: Steven Lewis Simpson, based on the novel by Kent Nerburn

Starring: Dave Bald Eagle, Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault, Tatanka Means, Zahn McClarnon, Yellow Pony Pettibone, Dawn Little Sky, Sarah Sido, Harlen Standing Bear Sr.

Year: 2015

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US, UK


EIFF 2016

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