True Wolf: Film Review

True Wolf Film Still - P 2012

True Wolf Film Still - P 2012

Intriguing, sometimes moving doc about wolf issues doesn't fully explain its context for uninitiated viewers.

Director Rob Whitehair focuses on one activist family, who found themselves caring for a newborn wolf in 1991, in his new documentary.

Can wolves and humans coexist? Should we even try? Widely held assumptions on the topic are challenged in Rob Whitehair's True Wolf, which leans toward the live-and-let-live side but has a common-sense frankness about its risks. The topic's appeal is broad, but Whitehair's tight focus on one activist family keeps this film from being the one to reach an audience beyond those already involved in the issue.

In telling the story of Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker, a Montana couple who found themselves caring for a newborn wolf in 1991, Whitehair initially seems to be introducing viewers to one side of the debate -- a fight in which some activists would happily kill every wolf in the wild while others hope to see lupine populations rebound without human interference.

In reality, the film almost exclusively focuses on Koani, the pup who became the center of Weide and Tucker's life. They'd be the first to say wolves shouldn't be pets, and that the major adjustments life with Koani required -- dumpster diving for butchers' waste, going on constant,  physically demanding walks -- made sense only so the animal could serve as an "ambassador wolf," visiting schools and public events so people could get comfortable with a species they've been trained by centuries of folk tales to fear.

The film's extended look at this living arrangement is interesting and, as Koani approaches the end of her life, poignant. But Whitehair relies much too heavily on interviews with Koani's adoptive parents: A little bit of disinterested scene-setting, laying out the political/environmental debates Tucker and Weide were wading into, would help a great deal. Cody Westheimer's obtrusive score doesn't help, relentlessly pushing Nature's-grandeur buttons when a bit of restraint, or no score at all, is required.

Production company: Tree & Sky Media Arts
Director-editor: Rob Whitehair
Screenwriters: Rob Whitehair, Bruce Weide
Producers-directors of photography: Rob Whitehair, Pam Voth
Executive producers: Bruce Weide, Chris Palmer
Music: Cody Westheimer
No rating, 75 minutes