A Lakota Sioux elder — with all his wit and wisdom — is the main character in a feature-length movie that has its North Dakota debut tonight at the Grand 22 Theatres in Bismarck.
In the movie “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” a would-be author travels to the Dakotas to meet Dan, a Lakota man of spirituality and history portrayed by David Beautiful Bald Eagle. The encounter involves a road trip across the Plains, exploring cross-cultural friendship and contemporary Native American life.
Steven Simpson, British director and producer, said the low-budget, independent film has been enjoying the highest audience ratings in theaters in the upper Midwest, even when up against mega-million-budget blockbusters.
“It’s a good story, well told, that’s resonating with a lot of people. The elder is not a medicine man, or a chief; just a real interesting man, as interesting as Bald Eagle was,” he said.
Bald Eagle was 95 during the filming and died two years later in 2016 on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. He was born in a teepee at Cherry Creek, S.D., in 1919. In his lifetime, Bald Eagle danced with Marilyn Monroe, taught John Wayne how to shoot and Errol Flynn how to ride a horse. He was a parachuter in World War II and was injured in a jump into Normandy on D-Day.
He later married a Belgian actress he met while recuperating from a horse-caused injury sustained in a European Wild West show, and the two raised 17 children — some adopted — on the reservation. He was chief of the Minicoujou band, a champion Lakota dancer, rodeo cowboy and bullrider, race car driver, semi-pro baseball player and appeared in earlier movies, including the Oscar-winning “Dances with Wolves.” His wife, Josee, has a small role in the current film.
In his obituary, the London Times said Bald Eagle may have saved his best performance for last in “Neither Dog Nor Wolf.” The movie is an adaptation of the 1994 novel by the same name written by Kent Nerburn, a Minnesota writer.
Simpson said Bald Eagle was a delightful man to work with and to film, with a light in his eyes that shone brightly though he was probably the oldest film star still working.
“I don’t think I’ll ever film another face that beautiful,” Simpson said.
Bismarck movie-goers will recognize the beautiful Plains scenery. Simpson said other filmmakers would do well to film Dakota-based movies on location.
“It’s incredibly easy to film there. People are so welcoming, and there’s no traffic. I could point my camera in any direction, and it’s beautiful,” Simpson said.
“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” will have an eight-day run starting tonight with showings at 7:05 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. Check local listings in the Tribune and also at www.grandtheaters.com.