Friday, November 18, 2011

Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley Tells A Human Story

Posted By on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 at 5:36 PM

Desiree’ Fawn’s documentary about wolves and the Idahoans who love—or loathe—them played in Boise for the first time last night at The Flicks. The Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley, which took Fawn two years to film and edit, premiered in August in Sun Valley. Fawn told the audience at last night’s screening that she hopes The Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley will be the first of many Idaho-related films for her.

“I think it’s going to be a cult hit,” she said, drawing a laugh from the packed house.

Fawn’s film had little footage of actual wolves. She originally intended to let the people and landscape tell the story of wolf reintroduction and hunting, but “latent expectation” led Fawn to end the film with footage of a pack atop a hill. This scene, shot by Bob Poole, is the only portion of the film Fawn did not shoot herself.

The landscapes, broad and breathtaking, do tell much of the story.

“That’s kind of the sacred space that ties it all together,” said Fawn.

Aerial shots of jagged peaks dip into long valleys—the farm and ranch land directly affected by wolves. These shots are arguably the strongest cinematography in the film, which was well-edited, overall. Hillsides coated in wildflowers yield to snowy mountain roads with the passage of seasons, but as winter comes to the Wood River Valley, tempers don’t cool with the climate.

Many of the people Fawn interviewed in the documentary were passionate. Some voices quivered, others rose in ire. According to Fawn, people are the key to the story of wolves in Idaho—and to their future.

Fawn’s Ketchum background allowed her access to people who would not have otherwise opened up—people like Ron Gillett, founder of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition. As Fawn interviewed Gillett, whose brash voice filled the theater, some audience members cringed. Others laughed.

Though the audience occasionally found humor in the film, it was largely a somber depiction of two starkly opposed viewpoints. Fawn juxtaposed interviews with wolf and wildlife activists against opinions like Gillett’s, which had a jarring effect but nevertheless kept the audience’s attention.

As several audience members pointed out, Fawn did a remarkable job keeping the narrative balanced—she never, even in the audience Q&A session, chose a side herself. She emphasized that people must choose for themselves.

The Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley is brief but poignant. Even in its silences, the film is telling. It is an enlightening window into the culture clash between the old Idaho way of life and the changing tide as ranching and agricultural traditions are altered or erased altogether. Fawn hopes to release The Phantom Wolves of Sun Valley on DVD next year.

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