________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 7 . . . . November 29, 2002


The Man Who Talks With Wolves.

Carlos Ferrand (Director). Yves Lafontaine (Producer). Jacques Turgeon (Associate Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2002.
52 min., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: 143C 9101 199

Subject Headings:
Pageau Refuge.
Human-animal relationships.
Animal rescue-Quebec (Province).

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*1/2 /4

On their property near Amos and Abitibi, Quebec, Michel and Louise Pageau run a wildlife refuge whose mandate is to "nurse, shelter and set free," although some of the injured animals that come into their care cannot be returned to the wild. The wolves of the title are housed in enclosures of unspecified size and nature, and Pageau has developed a rapport with them which he values. When an incident disrupts his relationship with the pack, Pageau patiently attempts to restore it.

     The close-up photography of animals, eg. eyeball to eyeball with owls and wolves, is the most impressive aspect of this video. Much of the content is focused on a variety of creatures and the sentimental attachment of the caregivers. While the stated intention is "to make sure the animal hasn't been overly domesticated and can go back to live in the wild," it appears a number of them are unduly habituated to humans during their time at the refuge. A beaver kit, for example, which lived in their house for over a year was treated as a pet for by their children. The Pageaus are shown handling groundhogs and wolves, and hand-feeding moose and kestrels while acknowledging that they will “develop a handicap and lose their fear of humans." This contradiction may concern those who feel minimal human contact with wild animals in this kind of facility is necessary if their eventual release is not to be compromised. There is no mention of any legalities involved with keeping wild animals in this manner.

     The wolf saga is told in several brief segments as the film follows a seasonal time line. The transitions are rather abrupt, however. We are not introduced to the wolves for more than ten minutes of this hour-long documentary despite the title's suggestion that it will deal mainly with them. Also, there is no background information on the reason for the wolves' presence at the refuge, how long they've been there, or if their stay is permanent. The story of a recent escape is the main source of conflict and drama since the recapture attempts led to the regrettable death of two wolves, one at the hands of Pageau himself. Interest builds as he relates how the wolves distrust him since he has had to put an electric fence around their enclosure. At this point, the scene shifts to the veterinary care of an owl. The thread of suspense is broken for another ten minutes, replaced with random observations about the antics of other animals at the refuge. The film at times takes on the tone of a “home movie,” with cute shots of the pets.

     Narration in French is shared by the Pageaus and assisted by verbal English translation and some subtitles (with a couple of misspellings). The dialogue is not particularly engaging. As a simple portrait of a man with a passion for animals, it will interest some viewers. There is insufficient detail about animals or the refuge itself for it to be useful as a research tool.

Not recommended.

Living in BC, Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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