SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s Centennial Theatre will host “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” an independent film that’s made a splash over the past year through its grassroots marketing campaign and memorable story, through the end of the week.
“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” has quietly become a hit through an unconventional distribution strategy. Filmmaker Steven Lewis-Simpson, who co-wrote, produced and directed the film, did not think traditional distributors would reach movie’s core audience, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Over the past year, Lewis-Simpson has brought the film to small theaters in the U.S. and Canada, opting to appeal directly to audiences and showcase it in more intimate venues. Instead of focusing on traditional film markets, like New York or Los Angeles, Lewis-Simpson has targeted smaller markets; his tour began in South Dakota, where the movie is set, and has spanned states like Minnesota, Washington and now Wyoming.
The strategy has paid off, both critically and financially. The film managed to outperform Hollywood blockbusters in many of the theaters it has visited. Among critics, the film has received almost unanimous acclaim. According to RottenTomatoes.com, a site that aggregates film reviews, 95 percent of the reviews of the film has been favorable, with an average score of 4.7 out of 5 stars.
Lewis-Simpson, though, attributes most of the film’s success to his star, Lakota-native Dave Bald Eagle.
“Without finding him, I don’t know that I ever would have moved forward with (the film),” Lewis-Simpson said. “I can’t imagine anyone else who would have come close to fitting the role.”
Bald Eagle was 95 years old and had a modest list of film credits when Lewis-Simpson cast him, but he said the film couldn’t have moved forward without Bald Eagle’s involvement. Because of his background, Bald Eagle had a strong connection with the script, and Lewis-Simpson came to rely on that connection as filming progressed.
The film is about a white writer, played by Christopher Sweeney, who is tasked with writing a book based on the experiences of an elderly Lakota man, Dan, played by Bald Eagle. The assignment takes him on a road trip through the heart of Lakota country with Dan and his sidekick Grover, played by Richard Ray Whitman, as his guides.
Simpson had such faith in Bald Eagle’s connection to the story that for the film’s climax, a scene where Bald Eagle’s character visits Wounded Knee and recounts story of the massacre that took place there, Simpson threw out the script and let his star improvise the sequence.
“Dave went to such a deep, moving place in that scene, that it transformed it,” Lewis-Simpson said.
When the scene wrapped, Simpson recalled Bald Eagle turned to Sweeney, and said: “I’ve been holding that in for 95-years.”
Bald Eagle passed away, at the age of 97, before the film was released, but had a chance to see the film and told Lewis-Simpson “it was the only film he’d been in about his people that told the truth.”