Who’s Afraid? by Sarah Brinks
Thankfully, True Wolf is not a werewolf spin off of the TV series True Blood. It also doesn’t follow the recent Hollywood trend of making wolves CGI-larger-then-life-killing-machines like in The Grey and The Twilight Saga. Nope, True Wolf is the real life story of Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker and a wolf named Koani that they raised in captivity. Weide and Tucker are wild life specialists who got Koani as a pup so a filmmaker could use her in a scene in his movie. He wanted a scene with a wolf in a classroom being used as an educational tool, little did any of them know that is was the start of a 16-year adventure and the ultimate destiny of Koani. Once the scene was shot for the film Weide and Tucker were left with a tough choice; keep the then year-old Koani and raise her to the best of their ability or put her down.
It wouldn’t be much of a movie if they chose to put her down. Weide and Tucker took on the daunting task of raising a wolf in captivity and keeping her happy and keeping the public safe. You see the many steps and sacrifices that they took to accommodate her and keep her from being unhealthy and depressed. Since wolves are pack animals they quickly realized they couldn’t leave her alone or she would get upset and start destroying property (couches, clothing, etc.). So Weide and Tucker got her a dog companion, Indy. Indy is the fourth major character in the documentary and he is a delight and charming presence on screen.
Weide and Tucker start to bring Koani & Indy to local schools and town halls and use her to educate children and adults about wolves. They tried to break down the stereo types from fairy tales and the myths that led to humans hunting them to extinction in the US. There was some great footage of whole rooms gasping each time Koani would enter. The film maker does a nice job of showing you the power that Koani had just by the virtue of her species. This was an important time for them to be doing this type of education because it was when Montana was debating bringing back wolves to the wild. It was a hotly debated topic in the community with a lot of passion on both sides.
True Wolf was a really well put together documentary. The mixture of Weide and Tucker being dynamic, smart, interesting interview subjects along with the great historical footage of Koani and Indy draws you into the story and the many struggles and highlights they went through. There was historical footage of town hall meetings and community rallies around the issue of reintroducing wolves. This footage showed the vitriolic anger and misconceptions that people had about wolves. It also shows how Koani was an effective tool in teaching people the truth about wolves and helped to change some people’s minds in a real way.
Weide and Tucker have the unique experience of living for over a decade and a half with a live wolf everyday. Even with that very personal experience they seem to have a very levelheaded opinion about wolves in the wild of the US. They agree that there are risks and that farmers and ranchers have a valid fear for their cattle and livestock. They, however, are of the opinion that there should be room for everyone and that wolves are not the cold-blooded killing machines that the anti-wolf movement has painted them as. They interviewed the head of the anti-wolf movement and he had some very unpleasant things to say about wolves and their potential impact on the ecosystem and lifestyles of people in the community. His hateful disdain makes him look like a madman compared to the understanding Weide and Tucker.
The audio and video quality are pretty good on the DVD. You get to see the beautiful mountains of Montana and the strange family unit made up of two humans, a dog, and wolf. You get an intimate view of a traditionally camera shy animal. Koani is a beautiful wolf and you could see the wildness behind her eyes. She touched a lot of lives and even changed some minds. Your heart will be touched by her story and you will likely have a little different opinion about wolves when you finish the film.
Even if you are not an animal lover the film is worth watching. The human characters are interesting and well spoken, the animal characters are fascinating and entertaining, the subject is well explored and the historical video is often funny and beautiful. I learned quite a bit about wolves, and the serious issue of bringing wolves back to the US. I think it is tragic when any species goes extinct due to human interference and Koani, Indy, Weide and Tucker are brave ambassadors for a misunderstood and fascinating species.