Student, Professor Collaborate on Wolf Documentary

What started out as a senior project for one NMU broadcasting student has turned into a feature television production. “ Michigan’s Gray Wolf: Ghost of the Big Timber” will premiere at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, on WNMU-TV as part of the station's annual fundraiser.

The documentary, about the pros and cons of the wolf recovery in Michigan, was co-produced by former student Nick Van Court and associate professor Dwight Brady (CAPS), pictured right and left, respectively.

Van Court, a native of the Stephenson area, was in his senior year when he became interested in the wolf program.

“I was trying to get into wildlife documentary, and this project allowed me to do just that,” Van Court said.

Brady became involved initially to help Van Court write grants for the project.

“But when the money came in, the expectation level started to rise beyond what could be accomplished in a typical senior project,” said Brady. “Creating a broadcast-quality documentary of this nature is a major undertaking, and I knew Nick would need help. Between the two of us, we have devoted nearly 1,000 man-hours to this project through grant writing, research, script development, shooting and editing.”

The duo spent almost a year creating the film, recapturing the history and biology of the wolf. Most of the 45-minute documentary focuses on an overview of the issues surrounding the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula. They conducted 20 interviews with wolf experts, sportsmen, farmers and animal rights groups affected by the growing U.P. wolf population. “We try to give voice to all of those constituents,” Brady said.


Brady said that some people have negative opinions about wolves and the film helps to dispel some of the myths. For instance, while Brady and VanCourt were filming wolves just a few feet away from each other, the wolves brushed up against their legs.

“It basically demonstrates that wolves are typically not aggressive against humans,” Brady said.

It could take a very long time to get enough footage of wild wolves in their natural environment to support a script, so Brady and Van Court traveled to the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn., where they filmed wild wolves in an enclosure.

The current wolf population in the U.P. is at 360 according to the 2004 winter count, and the first case of a wolf returning to Lower Michigan was documented in October, when one of the animals was trapped and shot near Alpena. Brady said biologists estimate that at one time, nearly 800 wolves lived in the U.P.

Wolves were originally wiped out in the Lower Peninsula by 1910 and all but extinct in the U.P. by 1960. A reintroduction of four wolves from Minnesota to the U.P. was attempted in 1974, but all four died within a year. Biologists say the current population in Michigan has resulted from wolves naturally dispersing from Minnesota and Canada into the Upper Peninsula.

Public TV 13 shows few student-produced films, said Bruce Turner (WNMU-TV), but the wolf documentary turned into a major project and it fit the station's effort to show locally produced programs about and for the Upper Peninsula during the fundraiser.

There will be two reruns of the documentary at 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, and at noon on Friday, Dec.10.



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Updated: November 17, 2004