WOLF WATCHERS was the winner of BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY at the Documentary Film Festival.
1. What motivated you to make this film?
Olivia: I have been passionate about wolves since I was 10. I started studying them for a school project and just fell in love, but the thing about wolves is as soon as you read about them, you get to read about the politics surrounding their survival. It’s a very polarizing issue in the American West that has become more and more relevant as humans further affect our planet. So I knew I wanted to make a film to tell the story of these wolves and the people closest to them.
Claire: I am a freelance outdoor/environmental journalist and an environmental studies major in school, so was eager to jump on this project when Olivia approached me. Most of all, I am drawn to how people interact with the environment and what those relationships look like – so this project was right up my alley!
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
Olivia: We made this film thanks to the Colorado College Documentary Exploration Grant, which requires us to make the film within a year of receiving the funds. We spent the first few months putting together logistics and then spent the month of January 2022 filming every day in Yellowstone. Editing for the film began in April and finished in May.
Claire: From the time we received the grant to our first screening, the film took about a year to make. Although, the idea was around for much longer.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
Olivia: charming and moving
Claire: Quirky and hmm… conflicting
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Claire: The weather was unpredictable which caused a lot of anxiety about gear freezing/ not functioning properly. We also spent almost a full week snowed in… which was not ideal.
Olivia: We also struggled initially with breaking into the Wolf Watcher community. They’re an incredibly friendly and open bunch, they love teaching newcomers about the wolves in the hopes that more people will join in their advocacy. But they’re a little more hesitant towards filmmakers and reporters from outside of the community. They have been burned before, and initially we had to earn their trust and show that we were just as passionate about the wolves as they are. After that, everyone wanted to talk to us!
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
It was so touching! Everyone was so gracious with their commentary and support, which is important to us as young filmmakers. It was also amazing to hear what each person took away from the film; some of them had some insights that hadn’t even occurred to us before.
Watch the Audience Feedback Video:
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
Claire: I took an introductory film class at the beginning of college and I haven’t stopped wanting to make films since!
Olivia: I started making films in high school but wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to pursue it as a career. But in college I kept coming back to the film department and realized that filmmaking is what I’m most passionate about.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Olivia: One of the most important films in my life is The Big Lebowski. My dad first showed it to me when I was 13 and getting into filmmaking, and it’s one of my go-to’s when I want to unwind and have a laugh.
Claire: Jeez.. that’s a tough one. Jumbo Wild Dir. Nick Waggoner was very influential when I was in high school. The score, the landscapes’ expansiveness, and political turmoil resonate a lot with Wolf Watchers as well.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
Olivia: I’ve never submitted to a festival that provides feedback, streaming, and interview opportunities. It’s really incredible and more meaningful than just submitting a film into the void of the festival world. The only aspect I think I would add is more chances to network.
Claire: Gosh, the more chances to receive feedback and chat with folks the better.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
Olivia: I’ve been using FilmFreeway for 8 years and I love it. I like the filters and how it has exposed me to new festivals that I otherwise would not find through a simple google search.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Olivia: Dim sum is one of my favorites, especially roast pork buns.
Claire: Yellow Curry and buttered Naan!
11. What is next for you? A new film?
Olivia: I just started a graduate program at Boston University, focusing on TV writing and producing. I hope to work in TV one day creating my own shows and programming.
Claire: I graduate in December and then am off to freelance write for a while and tell more stories about the American West.
WOLF WATCHERS, 15min., USA, Documentary
Directed by Olivia Belluck, Claire Barber
Braving the realities of the harsh Montana winter and changing hunting regulations, hobby and career biologists track and study wolves in the Northern Tier of Yellowstone National Park. While the fate of wolves remains uncertain, the devotion and passion of Yellowstone’s Wolf Watchers are always a constant.