Month: August 2014

How the film of Neither Wolf nor Dog came to be — part one

It began almost 20 years ago when a Hollywood director had his assistant call me from a film location in South Dakota to find out if film rights to Neither Wolf nor Dog were available. I knew about as much about such things as you would if someone called you out of the blue and asked if the film rights to one of your high school papers were available. In short, I had no idea what that even meant.

Well, twenty years down the road I now know what it means. After listening to folks bandy about comments like, “We’ll shoot it really low budget — maybe 2 million,” I ceased trying to understand. Hollywood numbers are not my numbers, where I try to decide whether I want to spend $6 or $8 for lunch. But they talked big, wrote contracts as long as the Congressional Record, and blew kisses in my ear and smoke into other places. Good people, hucksters, folks of all political persuasions and intentions — there was no limit to what they proposed. My favorite was a porno director who had done films in Asia who wanted to insert a scene where Dan and some others would play a dream sequence lacrosse match in the sky like Harry Potter’s quidditch match. That idea, shall we say, did not fly.

Oh, I could tell you stories — of dreamers, of schemers, of people with talent and people with vision, of liars, of robbers, of characters of every stripe.  They had nothing in common except one thing — they wanted to own the rights but didn’t have any money to get the film made.

Now, understand, there is a reason why films cost so much.  All you have to do is watch the end credits of any film and see the hundreds of folks who are grips and gaffers and sub-gaffers and lawyers and caterers and god only knows what.  Who are they?  What do they do?  Don’t ask me, because I don’t know and don’t want to know.  I was happy to avert my eyes and let things proceed.  But, ultimately, I just wanted to see the film made and to be sure that it involved and benefited the Native folks and communities, and that it was an honorable representation of  Native reality.  Whether some star always had access to a bowl of M and M’s with all the brown ones removed, or a plate of shrimp with all the tails facing south, was of no concern to me.

Several times we came close.  A well known director said he could do it, but he took the money and ran.  We got the book and the script into Robert Redford’s hands, but to no avail.  We had brushes with talent, brushes with financing, brushes with directors.  It all ended up as dust in our hands.  At a certain point, you just have to trust the fates.

Well, fate works in strange ways.

My discovery of Steven Simpson, the man who is finally going to get this made, was strange in the extreme. I’ll tell you about it when his kickstarter reaches $15,000. Lets simply say that it involved a cheap roadside motel in Nebraska, a convenience store on the Pine Ridge reservation, and a rented theater in a small, out of the way town just south of the South Dakota border.

Go to his kickstarter and help us reach our next goal of $15,000.  Then I’ll tell you, in Paul Harvey’s famous term, “the rest of the story.”  Well, at least the next installment of the story.  It’s a pretty good yarn.

The film of Neither Wolf nor Dog needs you

I am not much for begging, and that is how this seems. But you must know that this is the moment that the film of Neither Wolf nor Dog can be made, and this moment will not come again.

Why? Because there is something intangible in the spirit of a Native elder, raised in the old ways with the old language, that cannot be faked, manufactured, created, or approximated. It is something that has to do with a fundamental and prior relationship to a world view and experience that even the most caring and spiritually attuned Native person raised in the modern era speaking English as a first language cannot fully understand. This is just part of the sad cultural reality of what the dominant culture has done to the people who first inhabited this land. I laud and honor and admire the Native people who fight to keep alive a past that America has tried to destroy, but the true elders — those whose very beings are inhabited by the old ways, who see through old eyes and live through the old beliefs and the old language — are passing quickly and will be soon gone.

We have such an elder in 95 year old Dave Bald Eagle, who has graciously agreed to play the role of Dan in the film of Neither Wolf nor Dog. But he will do more than “play” Dan. He will embody him. For he has lived him. He has known his heart and his sorrows. He has witnessed the passing of the ways and carries in his eyes the sadness and quiet acceptance, as well as the twinkle, of the untouchable peace that is at the heart of the Lakota spirit.

Director Steven Lewis Simpson and I, in our various ways and with the help of our Native friends, had spoken with and seen and considered every possible Native actor who could portray Dan.  As I said in the last post, many have passed, and none has been right.  But through good fortune and hard work and, we would like to believe, a bit of providence, we were lead to Dave.

Now we must make this film while he is still with us. It is that simple.

Please help us get this done.  Filming, even at its most stripped down and efficent, is not cheap.  Actors must be brought to the location, fed and housed and paid enough to survive. Cameras must be secured, film must be purchased, editing must be paid for.  Forget payment for those of us who have given our heart to this project:  we are operating on your donations and a dream.

But we believe in this film, just as you have believed in the book. Now we all need to work together to make this happen. Please go to Steven’s kickstarter and be part of this. This project is balancing on a knife edge. Without you, it does not happen. If it does not happen now, it may not happen at all.