Friday, August 17, 2012

TRUE WOLF? Nope. Rob Whitehair's movie -- worth seeing -- is nothing like definitive.

Was somebody attempting a kind of "call to mind" of Sam Shepard's True West? The title of Rob Whitehair's new documentary, TRUE WOLF, is not simply misleading, it's dead wrong. The wolf in question, Koani, has been raised in captivity since near-birth (which would make him anything but a "true wolf") by a couple of smart, feeling people, Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide, who care for him as he grows and goes from pup to, well, dust. (The segment toward film's end regarding what happens to Koani's remains is among the more profound and moving that I've seen. It echoes The Bible -- a proper visual retort to those anti-wolf, religious fundamentalists we see spouting off during the film.)

Whitehair's documentary (the director is shown at left) is almost always interesting and well-filmed, and it hardly deserves the brickabats tossed at it for not being a balanced look at "the wolf question." The film is all about Koani and his caretakers; the subject of whether or not and how wolves could, should or should not be preserved, delisted as an endangered species, or slaughtered out of hand, is not the main subject here. How could it be when Koani hardly represents anything approaching a wild wolf? Granted, Mr. Weide and Ms Tucker take their "wolf" around to schools (two photos below) to show children what the species looks like. That's Pat immediately below, during one of her "show and tell" visits with Koani and the couple's dog, Indy, at right. But even Bruce and Pat seem to understand that wolves in general are not something to invite into your home and yard. They, along with others interviewed in the film, believe that there must be some middle ground between the "kill-the-wolves" shriekers and "save-the-wolves" do-gooders.

In this particular case (unlike those of many of the films he covers) TrustMovies has some first-hand knowledge about "the wolf question." Back at the turn of this past century, as a freelance writer, he spent several weeks in Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park surveying and then writing about what the wolf predations -- on sheep, cattle, horses and their colts and even family dogs -- were doing to the locals in the area. It wasn't pretty, but it was something on which, until that time, little had been reported. Yours truly came back from his trip convinced, not that wolves should be exterminated once again, but that the locals in the area deserved the right to kill any wolves that were threatening their livelihood, their herds or their pets.

At this time, as I recall, the locals didn't even have the right to kill the wolves when these predators were in the act of killing their livestock. It was a dreadful situation, but one that the government would not change -- until the point at which it was certain the wolf packs had grown to a size large enough not to qualify as "endangered." (Government records on this subject, by the way, appear to be fudged like crazy.) But, hell, locals were already killing off the wolves anyway, via the now infamous 3-S plan -- Shoot, Shovel and Shut up about it. The pro-wolf lobby, off course, is hugely powerful, coming as it does from three areas: the east coast, California, and DC -- all places that, as the Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington state locals like to point out, have no wolves and so will never suffer the impact to their pocketbooks or psyches. No, these love-the-wolf folk can simply visit National Parks and moon over how "wild and wonderful" the beasts look and sound. It's a problem, all right, and it remains so still. (You can get an update on the latest situation here. And though this site seems noticeably pro-wolf, it also appears to be giving out good information.)

As the movie (which we should get back to now) makes clear, there must be some middle ground here. And that is what True Wolf, as a by-product of its telling us the story of Koani (that's the wolf pup, above, being fed by Pat), seems dedicated to finding. And indeed it does go a certain distance toward this goal, but a lot more could be done by explaining the entire wolf story: the extermination; the rejuvenation; those "wildlife" groups, where their money comes, and what they've accomplished; the viewpoint of the locals in wolf territory and what they've lost; and government involvement in all its tacky glory and deception. There's one hell of a tale here. Maybe someday someone'll tell it.

Meanwhile, True Wolf -- via Shadow Distribution and running just 76 minutes -- opens today in New York City at the Cinema Village (screening twice daily at 3:25 and 7:35pm), with a national release (rather limited in nature, I suspect) to follow. Eventually, I hope, the film will find its way to DVD and digital formats.

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