Respect for elders a vital part of actress Roseanne Supernault's life and new film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog
Actress credits learning from elders with keeping her grounded while working in film industry
For Métis/Cree actress Roseanne Supernault, playing the role of granddaughter to a respected Lakota elder in Neither Wolf Nor Dog came naturally.
Supernault grew up on the East Prairie Métis Settlement in Alberta and spent a big part of her childhood travelling with her father, who captured the stories of elders on cassette tape.
"We would drive around the Prairies and we would talk to old people," said Supernault.
"My dad would make me sit there and he would tell me, 'You listen to this kohkum. You listen to this moshum,' and I would sit there for hours listening to them talk. I wouldn't say a word. My dad would talk with them in Cree, then on the road he would explain to me what they were talking about."
She credits being raised traditionally and learning from elders to keeping her grounded in the movie industry.
In Neither Wolf Nor Dog Supernault juggles the roles of twin granddaughters of Lakota elder Dan, played by Dave Bald Eagle. The family lives on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and enlists the help of a white writer (Christopher Sweeney) to help Dan write a book about the Lakota.
'He put his soul on the screen'
Supernault said she was grateful for getting the opportunity to work alongside Bald Eagle, before his death in July 2016 at the age of 97.
Director Steven Lewis Simpson credits the success of the independent drama to Bald Eagle's performance.
"The central reason people are reacting so strongly to Neither Wolf Nor Dog is due to the spectacular performance of Dave Bald Eagle in the lead role," said Simpson.
"He was 95 when we filmed and he put his soul on the screen...The cultural importance of his performance is deep. But also there are a lot of laughs in the film, too, and people thoroughly enjoy the ride."
The film, adapted from the book of the same name, highlights Indigenous humanity, said Supernault. It addresses the Wounded Knee massacre and intergenerational trauma.
"As an Indigenous people, we are very, very tenacious, having survived the worst genocide that's ever happened on this planet. There's something beautiful to that but also very tragic," she said.
The residual effects left by colonialism even spills out into Supernault's everyday life, in the form of lateral violence. It's not a subject people are comfortable talking about, she said, but added it needs to be called out so that peace can be established.
"I got through an astounding amount of lateral violence," she said.
"I don't need it, I don't want it and I didn't ask for it. I'm out here doing my grind knowing that there's another generation of Indigenous storytellers coming up behind me and I want to set the stage for them."
Supernault now splits her time between Los Angeles and Toronto and is working as a filmmaker on several projects. She praised Simpson for working tirelessly to make the film on a "shoestring" budget of under $40,000.
Simpson said, for him, the job of directing on any film is the same: to be true to the characters.
"If a director approaches a story from a cultural landscape first, then they will end up in a land of stereotype, whereas when a film is inhabited by distinct and richly drawn and acted individuals who are all true to their reality then all will land well. It is very true in the case of this film," said Simpson.
The film has been shown in Vancouver, as well as in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, Alta. It opened at the Golden Mile Cinema (Studio 7) in Regina Nov. 10 and has been extended for a third week, to be followed by openings at Edmonton's Princess Theatre and Calgary's Plaza Theatre on Friday, and Saskatoon's Roxy Theatre on Saturday.