a SIFF 2012 review
Entrancing True Wolf a Wild Kingdom of Drama
True Wolf is the story of Koani, a wild wolf raised in semi-captivity by Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide. It is a tale about how this wolf changed their lives and affected what they did for a living while also emphasizing the impact the cub had on all of those she came in contact with. The documentary shows how two people, one wolf and one happy-go-lucky dog named Indy, can seemingly become best friends, the movie granting insights into the human condition and how people relate to the natural world viewers might not have had beforehand.
There’s not a lot more to it than that. Using a mixture of archival materials provided by Pat and Bruce, interviews with some of those who came into contact with Koani and a few reenactments depicting key moments where cameras could not have been present, director Rob Whitehair covers 16 years in the life of this wolf and her nonconformist pack. He diligently dissects the ins and outs of this story, ultimately crafting a saga of friendship, understanding, family and love that’s intimately heartfelt.
Is it better than your basic PBS or National Geographic Channel documentary? No, not really. Everything is very relaxed, easygoing and presented in a straightforward manner. There is little that pushes boundaries, few moments that feel as if the director has somehow dug them up out of the earth or has led his subjects to some sort of profound revelation they heretofore hadn’t already pondered. It’s all played fairly safe and doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, all of which gives the movie a sanitized serenity that can be, if ever so slightly, emotionally distancing.
Yet there is still something deeply cinematic about a great deal of the footage that Whitehair has diligently gone through and chosen to showcase. Images of Pat, Bruce, Koani and Indy on their walks in the wild, footage of the quartet at local elementary schools giving a powerful presentation to wide-eyed children, shots of the wolf and her canine companion at play, all of this is mesmerizing. The central saga of Pat and Koani and the personal nature of their relationship hits straight to the heart, their overall story a universal one any person who has ever loved a pet can easily relate to.
I can’t say the reenactments are staged particularly well. At the same time, Whitehair shows laudable restraint in how often he utilizes them. More importantly, the director never allows them to drip in saccharine self-importance, granting the human voices who were there during that moment to explain their significance and why recreating them here is of such emotional importance.
Should True Wolf be seen in a theatre? I guess the better question would be why shouldn’t it be, as so much of the archival material does possess a larger-than-life scope that will feel, if only a tiny bit, diminished on a smaller screen. I enjoyed this movie, got wrapped up in Koani and her family’s story in a way I hadn’t anticipated before watching. There is a streak of wild within this documentary I was drawn to, and as such I’m very glad I took the time to give it a look.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)