(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This documentary covers the life of Koani, a wolf raised by humans Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide. TRUE WOLF is the story of what humans learned from her and her impact on the program to reintroduce wolves to the Northern Rockies of Montana and the controversy that arose from that program. Koani became a sort of ambassador of the wolves and an educational tool, countering the wolf-fear effect of countless fairy tales, fables, and werewolf movies. In a general sense the film examines larger issues of conflict, particularly issues that raise fear and unreasoning hatred. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Koani was a wolf foster-parented by humans Pat Tucker and Bruce Weide. (I think we are never told anything about Koani's real parents.) She was raised not as a pet and not to be released, but as close as possible to wild. From the start Pat and Bruce were unsure they could meet the challenges of raising a wild wolf and it was clear Koani was going to need fulltime attention. Young wolves in the wild are always accompanied and Koani was not ready to be left alone for a single minute. Raising a wolf is a lot harder than Pat and Bruce expected, but it was overwhelmingly more successful than the similar project of the raising of a chimpanzee documented in 2011's PROJECT NIM.

The film moves on to the controversy of wolves in Montana. Much of the population is militantly opposed to the reintroduction of wolves. We see political demonstrations showing the virulent hatred of some people for the canines. One placard from the wolf-haters proclaims, "The WOLF is the SADDAM HUSSEIN of the ANIMAL WORLD." Ron Gillette of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition claims that the wolves kill everything in and area: prey, predators, and then each other. This certainly seems in contradiction of most of what we have seen of Koani. Although in one sequence, when Koani is told to get off the couch and go to bed for the night, the wolf reacts with a growling show of fierceness, but it appears to be a completely empty threat. In all scenes but that she appears to be as affectionate as a dog.

Koani was brought to schoolrooms to show children that she at least is nothing to fear. This is in direct contradiction to what the children are told at home about wolves. The film discusses how to manage the dissonance of trying to teach children in direct contradiction to their parents' teaching. The anti-wolf people even martial Biblical verse to argue against the wolves. One vitriolic meeting with a local anti-wolf contingent looks like it is going to bring real physical harm to Koani until the young daughter of one of the attendees defuses the situation by speaking for the wolf.

The film follows the unknowingly political life of Koani and the wolf's personal life with her dog companion Indy. Pat and Bruch bring Koani to 1400 education programs with a combined attendance of 200,000 people. But as compelling as seeing the wolf is, the film is at its best when discussing the general issue of overcoming the hatred of adversaries and the prejudices that the adversaries' children have learned from their parents. It is true, however, that Pat and Bruce depended heavily on the charisma of a friendly, well-behaved wolf. TRUE WOLF is intelligent and touchingly written and directed by Rob Whitehair. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. The film opens in NYC on August 17 at Cinema Village. A national release will follow later.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper