“Waning Wolf” Works Its Way Into Festivals

Photo by Sasha Ribowsky.

Last year, a group of SUNY New Paltz students set out on a mission to shed light upon the diminishing wolf population and show the wolves’ true nature through a documentary called “Waning Wolf.” Now, the 17-minute film has been announced as an Official Selection of the Woodstock Film Festival placed in the “Hudson Valley Docs” category, with its world premiere screenings to be held Friday Oct. 17 and Saturday Oct. 18.

The documentary’s tagline is “Hunter. Ambassador. Teacher. Atka.”, describing the characteristics of Atka,  an ambassador wolf from the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York, around which the documentary is anchored.

According to Executive Producer Sasha Ribowsky, “Waning Wolf” seeks to dispel the myth of the “Big Bad Wolf”  that perpetuates a negative stigma of wolves. Through interviews of staff from the WWC among other members of nature sanctuaries, the documentary eradicates preconceived notions of wolves. It also explores the role and moral implications of human intervention in nature and wild populations.

Director Ian Todaro, a fourth-year digital media production major,  said “Waning Wolf” started out as a project for their seminar in digital filmmaking, a capstone course taught by digital media production Professor Gregory Bray, but “a few months later it’s clear that it’s become more than that.”

“My role is to guide the process. Seminar is the class where students get to demonstrate what they have learned during the major,” Bray said. “This is the second student documentary to be accepted into the Woodstock Film Festival in its 15 year history…I’m proud of their accomplishments. It’s a highly competitive festival to get into, and it’s an industry festival—which means it has the potential to be seen by quite a few insiders.”

In regards to the production group, which consisted of other recent alumni including Juliana Hedeman, Ryan D’Angelo-Sylvia and Victoria Ottomanelli, Todaro said they “put a lot of heart and soul” into the documentary and believes their hard work “really shines through on the screen.” Each of them played multiple roles in the documentary’s development.

“I like to think that we were really able to connect with Atka, Alawa and Zephyr (the other wolves) from our time spent with them at the WCC,” Todaro said.  “Wolf conservation is an important topic because not having any wolves or real predators has really thrown our local ecosystem out of whack. Watching the documentary shows how when deer go unchecked in nature it can really have unwanted effects on the landscape.”

Ribowsky, a recent alum who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French and digital media production, also presented their findings from the documentary as part of her Honors thesis.

“One major benefit to this documentary was discovering how many people found the content compelling and wanted to learn more about what others can do to help out, which at this point it’s mainly spreading the word and exposing incorrect stigmas,” Ribowsky said. “That aspect was incredibly rewarding.”

Todaro added that the seminar course paved the way for an “incredible” and “humbling” experience overall.

“Just last year I was at the Woodstock Film Festival as a volunteer, and now I have to ask to be excused from class so I can go to the festival as a filmmaker and then when I leave the festival, I still have a ton of homework to do,” Todaro said. “Going through the process of making the doc definitely sharpened a lot of my film making skills. I learned a lot, and hopefully I was able to teach other people a few things too.”

In March of this year, speakers from the WCC gave a lecture in Student Union Multipurpose Room and brought Atka with them. To date, “Waning Wolf” has won the 2014 Eli Jaffe Film Competition and received a Bronze Telly Award this past June.

The documentary has also been accepted into festivals worldwide such as The 9th Science Film Festival: The World Of Knowledge in Russia, Festival Nature Namur in Belgium, Matsalu International Nature Film Festival in Estonia, Early Bird International Student Film Festival in Bulgaria.

“I’m so excited to see students in our program gain industry recognition for their exceptional work,” Bray said. “Each year the students in our program just continually set the bar higher, and this project really sets the bar high.”