The Badlands feel like one of the more unique national parks in the United States. Situated in the heart of South Dakota, it's a sweeping snapshot of beautiful spires and earth-made formations that somehow captures the barren land and sheer emptiness of the state.
The Badlands will come to the big screen in Jefferson City this weekend at the Goodrich 8 Capital Theater in "Neither Wolf Nor Dog," playing Sunday and Monday and Aug. 23 — and a local church has special ties to the film's subject matter.
The film, based on a novel of the same name by Kent Nerburn, follows the story of a white author who gets sucked into writing about contemporary Native American life through the words and experiences of a 95-year-old elder.
The film, which stars Christopher Sweeney as Nerburn, also stars 95-year-old Dave Bald Eagle as the elder Dan who Nerburn shadowed during his time of writing the novel.
Bald Eagle, who passed away in 2017, was born in 1919 and spoke only Lakota until age 12. His grandfather, White Bull, was at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, which is famously referred to as "Custer's Last Stand," and claimed to have killed Gen. George Custer in battle.
The film also cast several other Native-American actors and actresses, including Rich Ray Whitman who was a participant in the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973.
According to its director, Steven Lewis Simpson, "Neither Wolfe Nor Dog" is one of the biggest self-distributed films in recent years and has played in more than 115 theaters in the United States.
A large portion of the film was shot on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which holds the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, as well as a portion of Badlands National Park. While holding national and historic landmarks, the reservation is also home to one of the poorest counties in America.
Oglala Lakota County, which sits entirely inside of Pine Ridge, has a median household income of approximately $26,330 and per capita income of $9,286, with 40.7 percent of its residents living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"It is basically Third World conditions right here in the states," said Melissa Hatfield, pastor of youth and missions at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City.
Hatfield has helped organize church mission trips to Pine Ridge for about the last decade. After a search for national mission partners, she decided it was the place to go.
"We wanted some national partners, and I just did a Google search for the poorest counties in the U.S.," Hatfield said. "Almost all of them are reservations, and Pine Ridge is almost always the one or two."
The county's poverty rate is the highest in the United States, USA Today reported earlier this year.
"They have a lot of health epidemics," Hatfield said. "There's a lot of alcoholism. The suicide rate is three times the national average for young people, so that was what drove us to look for partners there."
After a church-led book study of "Neither Wolf Nor Dog" in 2017, the Jefferson City church found out about the film and, Hatfield said, members did "a lot of reaching out and contacting to get it in the area."
Hatfield said she's excited to see the narratives of the novel pop off the page.
"I'm interested in seeing the Lakota's story come to life," she said. "When you go to Pine Ridge and meet Lakota and see all they've gone through and that there's also windows of hope there, especially in the young people — I think I'm really interested to just see the story played out to where you get to walk in it, especially for people who have never heard it and don't understand the Lakota perspective."
Tickets for the local showings can be purchased at goodrichqualitytheaters.com/missouri/capital-8 or at the theater box office.