When a documentary comes along that garners a 1st place grant from HSUS, wins the top award at the Arizona International Film Festival and the Audience Choice award at the Minneapolis International Film Festival, then you can lay odds that it’s well worth watching. What makes “Medicine of the Wolf” so special? Julia Huffman’s intuitive vision, her comprehension of an age-old problem, and her creativity in relaying both serve to create a means and a message for those who seek to understand the plight of the wolves of our nation.
Huffman wisely allows those authorities familiar with wolves to relay their particular viewpoints on wolves in order to strengthen her own answers to the questions of why have wolves historically been so maligned, misunderstood, and feared. World famous photographer, Jim Brandenburg, is a frequent face throughout the documentary and he shares several of his firsthand encounters with wolves as a reverential, gestalt experience; one can sense the wonder and awe of those moments, so poignantly framed by the snowy silences of the northern wilderness. He also lends his theories as to why humanity has developed a Jungian race memory for killing wolves.
The narrative prods the viewer along a timeline that begins with myth and ends with science. Dr. John Vucetick describes how wolves live in a social unit, much like ourselves, and how our most faithful companion, the dog, which is descended from the wolf, has, unlike the wolf, been accepted by us. Very subtly, we see how easily logic can be turned on a dime and released from reality according to custom and culture. Dr. Vucetick also delineates the difference between societal opinion and scientific opinion. For me, this was a harkening to all to allow science to reconnect us with what is real where wolves are concerned.
Indeed, short clips of politicians demanding the slaughter of wolves so that their constituents are protected ring out as false and silly. And ever so subtly, this film asks us for whom does such illogical ranting serve. The answer becomes obvious once the statistics are given. For example, in 2012, out of 165,000 head of cattle in Minnesota, there were only 81 cases of depredation. My math might not be the best, but I can tell that this figure isn’t even 1% of the bovine population. And with only 2 cases of wolf attacks on humans in a 100 year period, there is no doubt that the wolf‘s reputation has been stood upon so that others could rise in power.
If at this point, you still feel conditioned to despise the wolf, then look no further than how wolves are reshaping the lives of children who have reconnected to life through their mutual interaction. Learn how other cultures, like the Ojibwe, have always seen humanity and wolves as connected to each other. Hear the voices of reason via Dr. Jane Goodall, Saginaw Grant, and Chi-Ma’iingan/Great Wolf (Larry Stillday). By the time the film ends, you will know what the medicine of the wolf is and I promise, you will be moved.
So, how do we change others’ perceptions of the wolf? How do we manage a Damascene conversion for the masses? Jim Brandenburg suggests that we must “come in the back door” in order to make that effort. I personally sympathize with author Flannery O’Connor; she said, “… to the hard of hearing, you shout and for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures.” In both ways, you can do no better than to buy a copy of “Medicine of the Wolf” this Christmas; buy yourself a copy to keep and also, one for a friend, so that all may hear and see and finally, know the truth.
A Five Paw Rating: