CHILLICOTHE — A new movie is being released this week in the Peoria area, one that you won't find advertised on billboards or television commercials.
The film is "Neither Wolf Nor Dog," and it will be exclusively screened at the Chillicothe Town Theatre this week from Friday through March 22. The Town Theatre marks the first time the movie will be shown in the state of Illinois after it recently crossed the 125 theater threshold, mostly across Minnesota, the Dakotas, Oregon and Washington.
"Neither Wolf Nor Dog" revolves around the relationship between Dan, a wearied Lakota elder at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and Nerburn, a white author who has road-tripped from Minnesota to the reservation to write Dan's story. Scottish director Steven Lewis Simpson adapted the movie from the novel of the same name after promising the author he would get the film made by "whatever means necessary."
Once the filming was completed and post-production finished, Simpson decided against seeking a regular distribution deal, hoping that a more grassroots campaign would get it on more screens. So far, his wager has paid off.
"The distribution has been a phenomenon," Simpson said. "I saw how poorly other independent films have done with distribution and opted to self-release it because I knew there was an audience."
Cyndi Kosinski, the operations manager for the Town Theatre, thought the film would be a natural fit at the theater when the opportunity was presented to her. Kosinski, her husband and two friends have taken student groups from Illinois Valley Central High School to northern Michigan each June for the past seven years to do work for the members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Student attendance for the trip has increased each year, including 20 last summer.
Between the annual Native Americans Speak event at Shore Acres and the many students who have participated in the trip, Kosinski figured the film would be at home at the Town Theatre.
In the places "Neither Wolf Nor Man" has been shown, the reviews have been positive. Minneapolis Star-Tribune film critic Colin Covert wrote that the movie "develops strong momentum" and that by the time the film ends "the characters of this modest, crowdfunded feature are practically unforgettable. It’s immensely serious but no downer."
And sometimes the film has even performed better than its big-budget Hollywood peers. During its run last June in Vancouver, Wash., the film grossed more than every other Blockbuster in town other than "Wonder Woman."
Simpson believes its resonance with audiences is derived from the story's rich characters and the humanizing portrait it gives of each one. Native American audiences in particular have loved it, according to Simpson, and have told them the characters remind them of a great-uncle or a certain friend.
Word-of-mouth has been crucial to Simpson's self-distribution model and he believes that success can continue in Illinois, starting in Chillicothe.
"I'm confident in a good showing there and maybe other areas close by in Illinois will take notice," Simpson said.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.