Title: True Wolf
Director: Rob Whitehair
Stories of human connection to the animal kingdom in the modern world are surely not the worst nonfiction film endeavors, but the rather bewildering “True Wolf” takes what by rights should be the fascinating tale of a Montana couple who raised a wild wolf alongside their dog and turns it into a sincere but hopelessly jumbled mess. Poorly edited, structured and thought through, director Rob Whitehair’s movie is a torturous bore, even at a mere 76 minutes.
“True Wolf” centers on Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker, a married couple who decide to hang onto wolf pup Koani after a wrapped-up film project leaves him in their custody. Learning by trial and error as much as anything else, they get a dog to provide some quasi-lupine companionship, and pretty much devote their entire lives to raising Koani in a manner that at least accommodates his baser instincts. This means two-hour-plus walks twice a day (tethered by bungee-cord-type tubing), dumpster-diving for some of the more than 1,200 pounds of raw meat their wolf eats every year, and a special “wolf door” that allows free access between outside and a caged-in portion of the inside of their house. For money, they also use Koani as an “ambassador wolf,” taking him around to elementary schools as a teaching tool about wildlife.
Whitehair’s film is ostensibly a didactic tale of the grey area between man and beast, fellow social predators, but it’s also an examination over the debate of the reintroduction of wolf populations into the wild, though one has to mostly suss out that latter part on their own, after a half hour or more of viewing. The film is sketchy about the specifics of how Bruce and Pat came into possession of Koani, and it intercuts footage from lots of different sit-down interviews, so is frequently repetitive. It touches on socialization versus domestication (a crucial difference), but not quite with as much detail as one would ultimately like.
Most inexplicable and impenetrable, however, is a buffet of protest footage — of exactly what, where and when, one is never fully certain — wherein someone actually waves a sign that reads, “Wolf is the Saddam Hussein of the animal world — we don’t want Saddam Hussein!” There’s also an old guy with his arm in a sling who quotes from the Book of Revelation, and a woman who prattles on about Satan wanting to have livestock threatened (presumably by way of reintroduced wolves). Many of these bits are entirely absent any context or set-up (some even seem certain to be re-creations), so it’s hard to grasp what the hell is going on or even what the point is, to be honest.
Weide and Tucker are polite, interesting and well-spoken subjects, but this vehicle is a frustratingly shapeless vessel for their story. Fans of Werner Herzog’s meditative “Grizzly Man,” as well as other films that examine the difficulties of taking as pets animals meant to be wild (“Project Nim” and ”One Lucky Elephant” come to mind), and even wildlife lovers in general may be tempted to take a flyer on this curio. Stick with “Teen Wolf” instead.
Written by: Brent Simon