Another review of the film of Neither Wolf nor Dog. . .

I just received this in my in-box. Being compared to Easy Rider is no small compliment.

I think this little gem is going to make its way in the world.

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Film Review: Neither Wolf Nor Dog

By Dylan Matthew

Running time:

Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson is no stranger to either the source material for his latest feature nor the guerrilla film making techniques he’s deployed to bring it to life. Based on the book by Kent Nerburn, this adaptation by both author and director depicts Nerburn’s unexpected journey through Native America’s history, culture and landscape.

Nerburn is summoned by Dan, a Lakota Elder who asks him to write a book about his life and his people’s history. Feeling unqualified, unworthy and reluctant he turns the offer down but events conspire to draw him back in. After a blundering false start, Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) is all but kidnapped and taken on a road trip around the Native American landscape. Stopping off at key landmarks, Dan and his companion Grover (Richard Ray Whitman) try to educate him in their ways, encouraging him to see and write the story in his own way without falling prey to white men’s guilt-ridden cliches of glorifying an indigenous race.

Dan is played by 97 year old Chief Dave Bald Eagle in a wonderfully honest, no-frills way that only such an elderly semi-professional actor could achieve. His aged face, voice and manner was a joy to behold. A veteran of the D-Day landings, Dave Bald Eagle’s worldly experience is etched into his face and being. So good was his performance that when he falls asleep out of boredom whilst listening to Nerburn’s first efforts being read aloud I incorrectly thought he’d nodded off for real.

And so the journey unfolds with the three souls pottering from dreary rural shacks to the magnificent prairies of South Dakota and Nerburn’s understanding is slowly awakened by his benevolent captors. Relative newcomer Sweeney is the perfect foil to his companions more worldly philosophy playing it with charismatic understatement, a fish out of water, begrudgingly grateful for his new insights and friendships.

Unfurling at a leisurely pace, this is a put your feet up and let it gently wash over you road movie and a real coming of age departure for Simpson. His previous independent features such as the thrillers Ticking Man and Rez Bomb were more pacy action affairs. Here the material is given room to breathe. In one outstanding set piece Nerburn, Dan and Grover drink coffee in a roadside cafe. Their brief rest is interrupted by a begging drunk who repeatedly enters and leaves the cafe. It’s both amusing and tragic and without saying very much in the way of dialogue it says a great deal about what has become of some of America’s heritage.

That and several others scenes achieve this quality in spite to the film’s 18 day shooting schedule. To me this sounds like a breakneck speed to make a feature but Simpson likes to work unfussily with a small crew. Undoubtedly this allows for creative freedom but like many guerrilla style films the low to no budget constraints sometimes show up on screen. This is the case here as well where at times the rough edges make themselves known. Easy Rider came to mind, it too had many rough edges, improvisation and a few sleepy moments yet feels like an edgy film holding the viewer to the end. Now put three guys in a car insteadof bikes, subtract the frenetic editing, the rock n roll and the drugs but somehow achieve the same result.

Much of Neither Wolf Nor Dog’s power comes from this rawness and the truth of its source. And much of it’s beautiful to look at whether it’s a landscape or Dave Bald Eagle’s solemn face and delivery which is contrasted and complemented nicely by Richard Ray Whitman’s spiky sarcastic performance which also deserves a mention. There are many good laughs too and a terrific throwaway punchline and visual gag in the last scene.

But most memorably the penultimate scene at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre packs an unexpected emotional punch that lingers long after. Apparently tossing the script aside Dave Bald Eagle improvised his dialogue to Christopher Sweeney and the camera simply followed them. Not that much is seen or said but its deeply affecting as they pass the graves that mark the butchering of dozens of men, women and children by the 7th US Cavalry.

All things considered, including its rough edges, its low budget aesthetic and approach, Neither Wolf Nor Dog is an impressive achievement and feels like an important story made with passion and deserves to be seen by audiences beyond the festival circuit.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog received its World Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this year.

24 thoughts on “Another review of the film of Neither Wolf nor Dog. . .”

  1. Oh this gave me goosebumps reading it !! Want to see the movie SO bad !!!
    I think you are right Kent !!! Think it’s going to be seen by a lot of people !!

  2. I felt the film just reading this review. I am so looking forward to seeing it. So very happy that a long time favorite book of mine was put to film. It was so worthy of it. Thank you

  3. A powerful review that must be very satisfying to you, Kent, and all of the cast and crew. Matthew’s words ring out with admiration and respect for what you all have accomplished. If I had never read the book or enthusiastically followed the progress of the movie since its inception, reading his review by itself would really make me want to see it. May his ending remark that the movie deserves to be seen by audiences beyond the festival circuit come true and soon!

  4. Bill Dobrenen


    Another great review, only one of many to come. I can’t wait for my students to see the film. They already read the book and are transformed by its truth. Thanks for all your work on these life-changing projects. What a joy to see NWND come alive on the silver screen!

  5. Ramona Coyote

    I recently received a request for venues from Steven Lewis Simpson, and forwarded a few here in Montana in the Flathead region.
    This review shows the beauty and importance of this film, which I am sure you must feel a great joy in knowing it’s journey has now begun.
    Congratulations, Ken…each one of your books has always touched my soul.

  6. Himanshu Tiwari

    Hello Kent,

    I have talked about the book and the movie with members of a Zen Buddhist center (Dharma field zen center in Edina)) in Minneapolis that I visit often. Most of the members have expressed interest in seeing the movie.

    Please let me know as to when the movie might be shown in Minneapolis?

    Thank you,
    Himanshu Tiwari

  7. Hi Himanshu,

    Everything about the showing of the film is under the control of the director, Steven Simpson. You can contact him through the facebook page he has set up for the film, neither wolf nor dog film. I have no say in how it gets distributed or where it gets shown, beyond passing information on to him from interested parties. The best thing you can do is to go to facebook and contact him directly.

  8. congratulations Kent on this achievement. These 3 books have truly changed many things in my life and how I approach things these days both when I am on the rez with the Lakota and in my day to day dealings in the white mans world. I would drive 500 miles if I have to, to see this movie that brings your first book to life! Congratulations.

  9. I cannot wait, and this review makes me even more excited to see it. This book, if you have a soul, IM O,is not at all easy to read. And yet, it is a must read, as is The Wolf at Twilight (the title made me dread it), and Girl Who Sings to the Buffalo are some of the most important books I’ve ever read, and I hope all become videos, so those people who don’t read can have the magnificent experience they would otherwise miss.

  10. I am going up to Santa Fe–a one hour trip from my home in Albuquerque–to see this movie, based on this review. Well written review which makes me absolutely want to see the movie, especially after having recently visited the Greasy Grass Little Big Horn site in Montana.
    I do hope there will be an Albuquerque screening soon–perhaps at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center or The Guild Cinema?

  11. Everything to do with the film is in Steven Simpson’s hands. Check out his facebook page to see when and where the film is showing.

  12. I watched the movie here in Green Bay, in the middle of the Oneida Nation, and I can honestly say that it has had a profound effect on my life. I have been listening to Kent’s Audible books and have bought several others to read. The truth that unfolds is something that my spirit, or soul, or whatever you want to call it, has been longing for for my entire life.

    I have been a youth minister, a “born again” Christian, and always felt that something is missing and that many, if not most seemed to be in direct conflict with nature and it’s truths. I have dabbled in Zen Buddhism as the simplicity appeals to me, but after watching the movie, and listening to Small Graces, and Wisdom of the Native Americans, I continue to find myself thinking differently, and walking through the world with a different sense of peace.

    I want to learn more, and experience more. How can I do this and be respectful of the people, their beliefs, and their culture. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

  13. Hi Allen, You seem to like my sensibilities, so I will make the slightly uncomfortable suggestion that you look further into some of my books. The Native experience and point of view is best revealed in the trilogy, Neither Wolf nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight, and The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo, as well as in my recent book, Voices in the Stones: Life Lessons from the Native Way. My book, Native Echoes, speaks to the place where the Native and our Western Ways intersect. Two of my lesser known books, Calm Surrender and Ordinary Sacred, speak to presence of the spiritual in the ordinary, as does my book of meditations/reflections on the prayer of St. Francis, Make Me an Instrument of Your peace. And Simple Truths tries to move gently across deep waters in an attempt to speak to some of life’s larger lessons. I hope you will seek out some of these to see if they are worthy companions on your journey.

  14. Having never read the book, or any others by the author, watched this movie with few preconceptions. Was deeply touched. Any criticisms seem like quibbling. The ending was too cute, but appropriate nevertheless. In an age of noise and violence, I hope this quiet film gets it’s due.

  15. You should read the book. It goes much deeper than the film and you might find the ending of the book, which is quite different from the film, more to your liking. Thanks for writing.

  16. I missed the showings near where I live, and I can’t seem to find the movie anywhere. Will there be a DVD for sale or another way that I can watch this? I read the book and it brought a gamete of emotions to me because it explained even more about what happened to native people. In fact, this book was part of my journey in discovering the truth because I spent much of my life in the dark about what really happened. It helped me to explain why I didn’t know what it meant to be native. I really want to see the movie! Can you help me find it?

  17. warren walters

    A nation ashamed of its past will fear its future. Horribly disjointed film. Great landscape shots though.

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