54 minutes, 2006, miniDV

“CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS: A new documentary by C. Wolf Drimal, Margot Higgins and Doug Hawes-Davis”

There are no exact figures of how many animals are killed or seriously injured by automobiles each year, but the new documentary, CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS, estimates it to be nearly a million in the United States alone. This includes livestock, fowl and house pets, and as roads continue to widen for the country’s expanding fleet of trucks, sedans, mini-vans and SUV’s, those numbers will climb and climb…unless, of course, the animals are eventually driven to extinction.

Produced and directed by C. Wolf Drimal, Margot Higgins and Doug Hawes-Davis, the film takes a look at a handful of people who’ve been directly involved in vehicle-wildlife conflicts in Montana. They include employees of the Department of Transportation who clear the roads and shoulders of animal carcasses; a single-dad commuter who spends his driving time nervously anticipating a collision with deer; and an artist who creates sculpture out of road kill. Their stories range from cars being totaled by deer to herds of protective moose charging moving passenger and freight trains.

One woman runs a makeshift rehab for birds that had been wounded by cars while feeding on bodies on the roadside. Her menagerie of handicapped owls and eagles helps to illustrate the broadening problem of animals that congregate around the dead, inadvertently becoming targets themselves. At the same time, the filmmakers capture the warm and inviting spirit of someone lovingly devoted to these majestic creatures.

The same can be said for a visiting ecologist from the Netherlands, attempting to map out safer alternatives for deer to cross the increasingly busy highways. His statistics of lower speed limits resulting in lower fatalities, however, will undoubtedly fall on the deaf ears of people who’ve got their foot to the floor.
In keeping with the handful of pictures that I’ve seen released by High Plains Films, “Caught in the Headlights” deliberately avoids the histrionics and flashy editing and photographic techniques that have come to adorn documentaries on hot button topics. In one respect, this enables the filmmakers to quietly and sincerely probe a subject that’s downplayed or dismissed by the media.

But there’s a vast section of the population-especially in rural areas where the situation is severe in both body count and automobile damage-who believe that animals can be an intrusion and a nuisance. It’s difficult enough for any independently produced documentary to be seen at all; but to actually reach a desired audience in its hearts and minds is tougher still. “Caught in the Headlights” is sober, lucid and intelligent…and with any luck, it may save a few innocent and beautiful lives.