True Wolf Movie Review: Don't Be Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

Documentary recounts the full life of a wolf raised by humans.
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Wolves have traditionally been vilified as vicious, bloodthirsty predators not worthy of any human compassion. This documentary aims to influence that perception by recounting the complete life story of a wolf raised by humans and used as a goodwill ambassador in classrooms across the country. There’s no denying that the animals are dangerous, but at least in the case of the wolf named Koani, they’re worth a much closer look.

True WolfAs a pup, Koani was adopted by a married couple named Bruce and Pat, outdoorsy Montana folks who originally accepted her on a temporary basis while participating in a research study. When that study ended as the pup approached adulthood, the couple were faced with the choice of euthanizing Koani or completely altering their own living conditions in order to accommodate her needs. Since they had already grown quite attached to her, they chose to keep her, beginning a 16-year odyssey that eventually found them utilizing her to educate students and adults around the country. There’s footage of Koani entering classrooms full of shocked students, appearing on a news program, and even taking part in an IMAX film production. That was her public role, but the film devotes at least equal time to her home life with Bruce and Pat.

Although she was raised by the pair, she could never be fully domesticated and so required special accommodations throughout her life. Bruce and Pat constructed a large corral for her outside their home, then built a tunnel to their house which dumped into a caged area in their living room. This allowed Koani the freedom to come and go as she pleased, giving her the comfort of being near the rest of her “pack” when needed. That pack quickly grew to include a friendly dog named Indy who became her faithful companion for the next 15 years.

Aside from living quarter considerations, Koani required huge amounts of raw meat every day, which led to the couple sometimes dumpster diving behind butcher shops for leftovers to satisfy her ravenous appetite. She also had far greater need for exercise and exploration than dogs, forcing the couple to take the time for two-hour walks every morning and another walk in the evening. She was much faster than them, and with her powerful 100-pound frame she was usually walking them much more than the other way around, but there’s amusing footage of snowy winter walks where the humans wore skis and let her pull them around, finally giving her the opportunity to run as fast as she wanted.

The film is a retrospective of Koani’s life, since she passed away in 2007. Director Rob Whitehair constructed the film from archival footage of Koani primarily filmed by Bruce, then extensively interviewed Bruce and Pat and other humans impacted by Koani’s life. The end result is a full and rewarding picture of the extraordinary lives of a wolf and her humans. He also spends a bit of time exploring the efforts to successfully reintroduce wolves to the surrounding wilderness area, as well as the firestorm of controversy that ensued, and reveals that Bruce and Pat discovered wild wolf tracks near their home within a year of Koani’s death. While wolves will justifiably continue to be feared, this moving documentary successfully campaigns for them to be respected.

True Wolf will be available for the first time online at Vimeo On Demand beginning Oct 23. Pre-orders for online rental or purchase are currently being taken at Vimeo.

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