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'True Wolf': Trying to defang myths about misunderstood species
A movie review of "True Wolf," Rob Whitehair's provocative documentary about a wolf pup adopted by a Montana couple over a period of 16 years.
Special to The Seattle Times
'True Wolf,' a documentary directed by Rob Whitehair. 76 minutes. Not rated; contains disturbing footage of a wolf visiting schoolrooms. Varsity.
Farley Mowat's boy-and-his-wolf story, "Never Cry Wolf," is probably the best-known book about the possibility of communication between wolves and humans. Still, there were limits to Mowat's intentions. As Danny Peary wrote about the 1983 film version of Mowat's wilderness adventure, human and wolf form a bond, but the human "never makes it his pet."
That was left to a Montana couple, Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker, who adopted a female wolf pup in 1991 and raised her as they would a human child. They named her Koani and proceeded to devote most of their emotional and physical resources to her over the next 16 years. The result became the documentary "True Wolf."
The creature quickly ruined their furniture, required a "wolf baby-sitter" (in the form of a dog named Indy), sometimes bared her teeth (she wasn't entirely domesticated) and eventually forced the couple to alter the scale of their raw-meat budget.
But Koani also became an "ambassador" for her misunderstood species, repeatedly visiting schools with Weide and Tucker, who have spent much of their lives attempting to erase myths about wolves (Tucker is a biologist).
Many of these scenes were recorded by camcorder or re-created (clumsily). Stitching it all together, in "True Wolf," is documentary filmmaker Rob Whitehair ("The Little Red Truck").
Like last year's "Project Nim" (about a chimpanzee raised by humans), Whitehair's movie raises fundamental questions about the wisdom of raising wild animals in a human family setting. No matter what you think about the potential dangers, it's a little unnerving to see Koani being introduced to very young schoolchildren in a school gymnasium.
A lot of damage has been done over the years by Little Red Riding Hood, The Boy Who Cried Wolf and The Big Bad Wolf, not to mention such ever-popular relatives as Teen Wolf and the romanticized werewolves of "Twilight." But "True Wolf" succeeds at least partly in defanging the legend and questioning its value.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org