Steven Lewis Simpson

The Long and Winding road – Bringing Native American Novel Neither Wolf Nor Dog to the Big Screen – Part Three

Before leaving Bemidji, Kent drove me up to Red Lake Indian Reservation where he had worked years before and created the To Walk the Red Road book with the kids there that is referenced in NWND. It was lovely seeing his banter with friends he bumped into there. He was in his element.

Spending time on the road with someone is a very particular experience. You discover the details of an individual that you would otherwise miss. And when making a film based on a novel where the protagonist is based on the author and it is a road trip, then it would be most foolish to not do that trip with the author to learn the details.

Detail number one. The importance of an arm rest in a car you will be in for hours a day. Our first stop was the car rental office and Kent smartly turns down the car presented to us due to it’s lack of a cantral arm rest. 100% with Kent there. We finally got what we needed and left the lakes and woodlands of Bemidji, in the north of Minnesotta.

As we moved through North Dakota we kept passing the Missouri River as well as tributories that were overflowing. This was 2011 in late May and flooding was away to hit many towns badly along the river. One sight I will not forget was that of a long cargo train stopped on the tracks in the middle of no-where as the tracks just infront disappeared into what had become a large lake.

We hit Bismark and there was major emergency flood defences being built up around the city. I discovered Kent is even more obsessive than I am about not being ripped off with the cost of a motel for a night. So once we rolled around town a bit too long we finally settled on the best dea we could get. The next morning we visited a radio station where Kent did an hour long interview on a local NPR station, talking about the books and the adventure we had undertaken with the movie.

One of the things that facinated me was seeing how Kent was in Lakota Country and inparticular his dynamic around an elder that might open up some interesting ideas for the movie. Once we had driven through Standing Rock Reservation we hit Cheyenne River Reservation and Eagle Butte. I had first visited there 12 year before in 1999 when a Ghost Shirt from the Wounded Knee Massacre was being repatriated from a museum in Scotland. Click here to view a part of that. Ghost Shirt Clip There was an elder I met on that occasion that I will never forget as his humor was amazing and he was such a great personality. Harry Charger was his name.

I hadn’t met Harry in 12 years and he had no reason to remember me but I gave him a call. The words I immediately hear upon the phone being answered “FBI or CIA?” “Neither” I replied, “it’s a movie director”. A booming laugh is heard on the other end. He said to come on over so off we went.

Harry was about 82 at that point and is one of those glorious figures you only seem to find in Indian Country. When people talk of Indian Elders, invariably people think of the stereotypical wise old Indian. But when I am with elders I am typically looking for the punchline as so often they have the most amazing sense of humor and it is a big part of why I have so many friends in Lakota Country.

Harry was still razor sharp. We were welcomed in and enjoyed some wonderful banter and hospitality. But what proved facinating was the difference between Kent and myself in that space. He was always incredibly respectful and following protocol for visiting an elder. Whereas I was very relaxed as Harry is one of these guys that is smart enough to not sweat the small stuff and knows how to enjoy people. There were moments in Kent’s body language and approach that swtiched a lightbulb off in my head as to Nerburn’s character in the film and proved to be the most enlightening moment of the trip.

PART FOUR TO FOLLOW.

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