How an Edinburgh romance ended up in an Indian reservation
More than a decade in the making, Steven Lewis Simpson’s powerful tale is finally reaching UK cinema screens
By Brian Pendreigh
IT IS 13 years since film-maker Steven Lewis Simpson wrote a script for a romantic thriller set on a housing scheme in Edinburgh. He finally got the film made last year, with one fairly major change – the story now takes place on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.
Simpson, 38, a former stockbroker from Aberdeen, planned to make Pulse his second feature film after the low-budget drama Ties in 1993. Pulse was the story of a middle-class young man and his girlfriend, who is from an Edinburgh housing scheme.
Simpson even shot preliminary footage with actor Henry Ian Cusick at the tower blocks at Muirhouse, near Granton. On two occasions Simpson seemed all set to make the film, only for the financing to fall through at the last moment.
Since then, the tower blocks have been demolished, Cusick went on to star in US TV drama series Lost and Simpson switched his attention to other projects.
These included a documentary about the return of an Indian “Ghost Shirt” from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum to the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota.
During this time Simpson met Russell Means, who led the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, the site of an infamous massacre by US troops in 1890. The more recent confrontation made headlines around the world and prompted Marlon Brando to send an Indian girl to accept his Oscar for The Godfather. “What Brando and I have in common is that we’ve both helped bail Russell out of jail,” said Simpson.
Simpson’s documentary expanded into a long-term project about Pine Ridge, which includes Wounded Knee, and his experiences also led him to think again about Pulse. “It suddenly dawned on me that the story worked as well, if not better there,” he said.
The well-off Scottish youth became a rich American boy (although he is called Scott, in recognition of the character’s origins) and his girlfriend from the tower blocks evolved into a young Sioux woman.
The film, now renamed Rez Bomb, had its world premiere at the Montreal Film Festival last year and has its British premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival next month. It stars the young American actors Tamara Feldman, from the TV series Dirty Sexy Money, Trent Ford, whose film credits include Gosford Park, and Means himself.
After the occupation at Wounded Knee, Means went on to combine political activism with an acting career, co-starring with Daniel Day-Lewis as Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and playing Sitting Bull in the mini-series Buffalo Girls (1995).
In Rez Bomb, Ford’s character comes out of prison to find his life threatened by a loan shark. He has a stash of drugs hidden in his guitar, but his girlfriend has pawned the guitar and disappeared. Means plays a gambler with whom they team up.
Means said: “It’s just regular people, on a reservation. That’s what I’m after in Hollywood. We’re human beings with all the same problems as everyone else. Hollywood doesn’t do those kind of films for us.
“I’ve done 21 movies since 1991, and if you’re an American Indian actor the only time you can act is if you dress up in leather in the summer or, if it’s going to be contemporary, you have to be a drunk.”
Means was born at Pine Ridge and still lives there, but Rez Bomb was the first film he had made on the reservation. He did it for a nominal fee because it meant so much to him.
Although it might be set anywhere, Rez Bomb does highlight the continuing plight of Indians on the reservation. It has a population of around 25,000, living in a barren area larger than some American states. In the early 1970s, when international attention briefly focused on Wounded Knee, the murder rate was 17 times the national average. Means said conditions have deteriorated since then. Unemployment is now around 80 per cent.
Simpson said: “There might be 17 people in a two-room trailer house. Everyone is patting themselves on the back in America about diversity finding its day. But in that whole debate nobody is ever bringing in the most depressed people in the country.”
Rez Bomb screens at the Glasgow Film Theatre on February 19
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