“Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” an independent film that was made as a labor of love on the leanest of budgets, stars 95-year-old Dave Bald Eagle, and is gathering more and more accolades and audiences, starts playing at the Ocean Shores Cinema on Wednesday, August 23. Showtimes are available at 360-289-1234 and online at www.farawayentertainment.com
Yakima native Christopher Sweeney plays Oregon author Kent Nerburn, whose award winning creative non-fiction book, written in 1994, tells his true story that starts when he is invited to meet with a Native Elder to write down his thoughts and memories. After accepting the challenge, he and Dan, the Lakota elder, begin a road trip across the Black Hills that becomes a spiritual journey, at times both frustrating and funny, both mystical and enlightening.
The film is part road movie, shot in a green 1973 Buick. Sweeney said it’s also a “mid-life coming of age story,” in which his character thinks he has some understanding of Native American culture but ultimately accepts that “I knew nothing.”
Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson, who shot the 2008 feature film “Rez Bomb” on the Pine Ridge, SD, Indian Reservation, tweaked Nerburn’s screenplay, after the author for years turned down several adaptations he felt were too Hollywood and missed the mark. The result seems to be defying Hollywood logic:
It was Kickstarter financed by the audience, shot in 18 days in one of the poorest parts of America, had an average crew of two, and prep and post were done entirely by the director. The film has been self-distributed, began its release in small towns, and has outperformed Hollywood blockbusters, receiving an 8.4/10 audience score on IMDB.com and a 4.7/5 on Rottentomatoes.com. By comparison, mega-budget summer blockbuster “Wonder Woman” has a 7.8 rating on IMDB, 4.4 on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a recent Vancouver run, the film out-grossed 11 of the 12 movies at a nearby multiplex (only “Wonder Woman” did better) while on a split schedule. The film has run eight weeks at a theatre in Spokane.
Sweeney, a Silver Star recipient as a Marine in the first Gulf War, and University of Washington political science graduate who is “still plugging away as an actor in LA,” said the film has been an experience like no other.
“I’ve worked with two Academy Award winning directors, and I’ve never had a role in a feature length film to such a great degree,” he said in a telephone interview. “For it to be such a success… there was no way of anticipating that sort of role would fall in my lap. It paid $100 a day! I had to be extremely open to it…”
He also served as co-producer alongside Zahn McClarnon, a Lakota actor who has gained attention in the “Longmire,” “Fargo,” and “The Son” TV series. Sweeney said their intention was just “get it made and tell Kent’s story; we had no commercial aspirations. It was just a testament to the heart that was put in by a very few people… how big those hearts were.”
He called the filming “immersive” and “the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had as an actor.” He said the effort to tell “such an important story” with a “micro-budget,” brought about the feeling with the tiny, committed group of actors and film makers that “we are living fully because we are madmen right now and we have to tell this story that certainly has not been told in the past.”