Directed by Steven Lewis Simpson, Neither Wolf Nor Dog (2019) takes an outsider deep inside South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation. Based on a true story, Kent Nerbern (Christopher Sweeney) is a culturally sensitive Minnesota writer who published a book of Native American oral histories. The book comes to the attention of Lakota elder Dan (Dave Bald Eagle). He decides Kent is the one to turn his trove of proverbs and reminisces into a book.
Although it’s in a neighboring state, the reservation is foreign territory for Kent. The locals are suspicious of him and he makes some inadvertent blunders. The pace of life feels slowed down. Deadlines and phone calls home can wait. Simpson’s cinematography captures both the vastness of the plains and the claustrophobia of the primitive dwellings that lack indoor plumbing. There’s an amusing sequence when the characters take to the road in a boat-like Buick.
In his nineties, Dan doesn’t claim to be a shaman or medicine man, but he projects the wisdom of age. His caretaker granddaughter Wenonah (Roseanne Supernault), the one who set up the meeting, tells Kent the gut wrenching story of Dan’s abuse as a child by the administrators of the government school. That pain is etched into his face. Though cantankerous, Dan also has a sardonic sense of humor. The performance by the late Dave Bald Eagle, a World War II veteran who appeared in Westerns, is remarkable.
In Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) Harry Belafonte’s character recounts his horrifying memory of a lynching, Similarly, Dan tells Kent, in gruesome detail, about the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee and why they’re on sacred ground, It’s the last part of Kent’s spiritual journey into America’s dark past and present, with Dan as his guide.
The supporting cast is excellent. The people they portray with complete authenticity, have pride in their culture but know they’ve been abandoned by their country. Richard Ray Whitman as bitterly cynical Grover is especially good in that regard.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog opens Friday, September 13 at Laemmle’s Pasadena Playhouse. Writer/Director Steven Lewis Simpson will participate in Q&As at the Friday, September 13, 7pm show Saturday, September 14, 4pm show and 7pm show (the latter with Christopher Sweeney actor/associate producer and local Pasadena resident)
Sunday, September 15, 1:10pm show