Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Dallas International Film Festival preview: Wolf
The howlin’ Wolf chews on spiritual taboos.
Ya’Ke Smith’s gritty family drama Wolf (playing on April 18 at Angelika Film Center Dallas) avoids sheepishness in dealing with its controversial subject matter, and its lupine appetite for realism unwraps more problems than it attempts to tie up. But the weighty issues that the film raises are pressing in light of recent social and spiritual controversies, and Wolf dignifies those issues thanks to strong performances and the director’s steady guidance.
At film’s outset, Carl (Jordan Cooper), a typical teenager dealing with a breakup, feels disconnected from his family: mother Nona (Mikala Gibson), who is studying full time for school, and Jaymund (Shelton Jolivette), an often-absent long-haul truck driver. But Carl has a bigger secret: the outwardly gracious pastor of his family’s church, Bishop Anderson (Eugene Lee), has abused Carl. As the incident comes to light, the family must not only deal with Carl’s inscrutable and improbable love for his predator, but also the rash of internal upheaval the abomination triggers, as well as the blind eyes of the church.
Smith’s religious roots, and a fateful watching of the documentary Deliver Us From Evil, which deals with a similar subject, inspired him to make Wolf. “I know a lot of people who have been molested. These stories have always lived in me,” Smith said. “Even beyond sexual abuse, this story is about the absence of a father.
“At its core, that’s sort of how [Carl] ended up in Bishop Anderson’s hands … He didn’t have a father figure, and because of that, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places.”
In researching for the role of Carl, Cooper stumbled upon an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that tackled males who had been molested. Noting the pain in the victims’ eyes, Cooper said that the part then became a must to play. “It was a duty for me,” Cooper said. “I had all these people on my shoulders, and it was my job to tell their stories.”
Wolf was a project two years in the making that culminated in a 15-day shoot in Smith’s hometown of San Antonio. Cinematographer Yuta Yamaguchi balances uncomfortably close, voyeuristic scenes with a color palette that parallels the thematic elements. Smith, who is a film professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, is no newcomer to filmmaking; his shorts Hope's War and The Second Coming garnered a Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award and an HBO Short Film Award, respectively. Wolf is his feature-length debut.
Smith said that in the month since Wolf’s world premiere at SXSW, feedback from religious groups has been mostly positive, and he wants to screen the film at churches to raise awareness for the taboo subjects that Wolf presents.
“We gotta talk about this,” Smith said. “Yes we need to pray about it, but then we also need to go to counseling, we also need to have forums about it. We also need to admit that it’s happening, because that’s the only way healing can begin.”
The sometimes hard-to-watch film’s gritty and untidy ending may put off some, but Gibson believes that it is critical. “I love that [Smith] doesn’t wrap things up in a pretty bow. The family can’t get over it,” said Gibson, who is the director’s wife in real life. “The end shows that the family is on its way, but they’re not there yet.”
Wolf’s strength is that it sheds light on the humanity of a church’s leaders and followers with as little bias as possible toward any one belief. “We can’t make our ministers our gods, because they’re not. The minute you start making a man your God [and] he betrays you, it shatters you,” Smith said. “We have to admit that our clergymen, who we love and who we trust, are flawed. And if we have to admit that we’ve been following a flawed person, what does that say about us?”
Pegasus News Content partner - Dallas International Film Festival
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