41 N Film Review: Predator/Prey– Prefaced with Counting Wolves


Isle Royale’s striking landscape, features, and qualities render it a place not easily forgotten. One of these notable features includes being home to the, now famous, longest running predator prey study in recorded history. Unfortunately, negative factors have caused a decline in the number of wolves on the island; putting the predator prey study, and even the health of the island itself, in jeopardy. What and if anything should be done about this potential crisis is an ongoing debate in federal, local, and academic circles alike. The short film, Predator/Prey, featured in the 41 North Film Festival, adeptly presented this debate for all circles, focusing on many key aspects and repercussions to action and inaction.  Additionally, the preface with Counting Wolves was a welcome treat; choosing to focus more on the experience itself of living and gathering data on Isle Royale in the dead of winter.

This particular film experience was very informative because the two films were not in competition with one another, rather they were complementary. George Desort’s Counting Wolves, limited the amount of information on the science and debate and mainly focused on life on the island.  Blizzards, low temperatures, lack of complete utilities: all included in the hurdles this small group of researchers face when gathering key data.  The research members in this film include: Rolf Peterson, a now-retired professor at Michigan Technological University, who started this project in the 1970s and lead it for many years; John Vucetich, an Associate Professor also at Michigan Technological University, now the current leader for the project; and last, but certainly not least, the pilot Don Glaser, who is only the second pilot to serve this study and when not working on the project serves as an Alaskan bush pilot. Counting Wolves may have chosen not be heavy on the science, but the incredible island nature shots, wildlife footage, and night-time timelapse sequences left little to be desired. Don Glaser however, may have stolen the show with his dry humor, no-nonsense attitude, and a calm unshaken attitude towards the steep daily obstacles featured prominently in the film.  This screen time was equally as well-deserved as it was entertaining because of his behind the scenes yet invaluable role in allowing the researchers to both reach the island and study the wolves from the air.  

Brian Kaufman’s Predator/Prey, on the other hand, focused heavily on the scientific and policy debate surrounding the interventionist and non-interventionist choices for the future of wolves on the island. The film explored many of the options currently on the table, in the attempt to provide facts to predict the best outcome. This film includes interviews with National Park officials, Rolf and Candy Peterson, John Vucetich, and many others. This provided key insight from some of the most informed people at the forefront of these issues. The decisions that will be made for this particular case have repercussions beyond Isle Royale and the wolf moose study itself, for they provide precedent for many other similar decisions that a changing world is going to be forcing federal and local officials to decide. While I commend this film on its high respect for details for both sides of the argument, of whether to introduce wolves artificially or not, and its many interviews, one criticism I would apply would be the lack of an interview with someone who is critical of artificially introducing wolves. Most interviewees seemed somewhat or very much in favor of introducing wolves, however if this was such a clear issue there would not be an ongoing debate. A compelling opinion in an interview, beyond just the textbook facts, for the opposing side (not introducing wolves) would have left the viewer much more able to fairly weigh both options.

Content aside, Predator/Prey also contained many breathtaking visual sequences. Isle Royale is an incredible landscape, and although nothing beats seeing it with the naked eye, this film does justice to the awe-inspiring views that are available on the island. For many who have heard of the study, these sequences are more than just pleasant additions to the film, rather they show why the researchers and others are debating so vigorously about the appropriate way to protect it. In this respect, the scenes show why those associated with the island hold it in such high regard and can inspire interest in others in the central debate of the film for managing it.

The wolf moose study on Isle Royale is one of the longest running predator prey studies and is currently at the center of vigorous debate about what to do about the wolves disappearing from the island. These two films, Predator/Prey and Counting Wolves provide information on the ongoing debate including the views, opinions, and facts that make up both sides. While one provides a view on what life in the middle of a bleak winter on Isle Royale conducting research is like, the other provides more concrete facts and scientific information. Both films, however provide abundant information pertaining to the study and the accompanying visuals make it a great experience for all who want to learn more about this fascinating research project. If the opportunity arises to see these films; take it!

By Cal Riutta