Poorly Domesticating The Wild
For Koani, a wolf picked from birth to be domestically raised for the purpose of a film (not this one), living unnaturally among humans was her poorly-thought-out fate. Bruce Weide and Pat Tucker were the pair of biologists who were hired to raise the wolf, but Koani was only a mere nine months old when it was completed, forcing them to decide whether to commit their entire lives to caring for the wolf for the remainder of her life or put her down for fear that they couldn’t give her the life she deserved. Having grown close to Koani, they inevitably chose the former, unknowingly devoting their next fifteen years to the animal, hoping that with socialization she could become a promotional icon for reintroducing wolves back into the wild. True Wolf is sophomore director Rob Whitehair’s loving memorial to the now deceased animal, but unfortunately, it is a sequentially repetitive work of amateur semblance that tends to reminisce rather than inform.
Training a symbol of untamed wilderness was not an easy task for Weide and Tucker. Though Koani looked like an emaciated husky, her natural survival instincts were deeply ingrained, making it impossible to treat her like a pet dog. Being left alone in the house was out of the question, as she would destroy everything in sight while unattended. So, a large outdoor pen was built and linked by an underground tunnel into a sectioned off portion of their house in which she could come to occasionally check in. As a pack animal, Koani needed a canine companion, so the couple adopted a dog, Indy, who would become the perfect playmate for an enclosed wolf. Raising Koani in an area where she could be exposed to a wide range of social situations was key in her domesticated upbringing, continuously seeing neighbors and other canines on their extended daily runs that took the group deep into the wilderness for hours at a time. By the time Koani became a fully fledged adult wolf, Weide and Tucker had trained her well enough to be able to take her into public for educational demonstrations in which they proved that wolves are not the nightmarish beasts of fairytale lore, but a necessary part of the ecosystem that demands respect.
Adults and children alike would be never see a wolf the same after receiving a kiss from Koani. As a team, they would eventually go on tour, presenting over 1400 programs nationwide to promote wildlife education. Though Whitehair, Weide and Tucker’s hearts were in the right place and Koani managed to live a long, seemingly happy life, their film is an overly sentimental, messy affair. Often drawing on sappy memories that over serve their purpose and nonsensical side stories, True Wolf should have been cut to half its length or more. As a simplified short it could have streamlined Koani’s story while avoiding pointless, unexplained tangents about wolf naysayers and biker fundraisers. Whitehair tried to tell a simple tale, and a short form, bare bones portrait would have been best for his narrative. His ambitions got the best of him and his convoluted film gravely suffers as a consequence.