“Coyote calls for an audience”
Missoulian, June 23, 2000
by Susanna Sonnenberg
KILLING COYOTE, made by Missoula filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis and opening this week for its world premiere at the New Crystal, is a fine piece of journalistic documentary, a glimpse into a heated issue and a sensitive investigation of both sides.
Set mostly in Wyoming and Arizona, the movie focuses on the modern coyote “problem.” Ranchers want to protect their livestock from these wily scavengers, hunters engage in bounty hunts for the most dead bodies and cash prizes, animal rights activists seek to preserve dignity and respect for a wild creature, and the political agencies, both on the civic and federal levels, listen to all these voices.
Hawes-Davis has assembled a diverse range of voices and facts in his responsible investigation, and in the movie we hear from the Utah rancher who hates this vermin, from the impassioned Humane Society workers who discredit the government’s control methods, from the Department of Agriculture’s specialist in coyote calls and from the partying hunters who gather annually in Wyoming for a free-for-all “turkey shoot.” Almost everyone is frustrated, both because he or she is not being heard enough and because coyotes are a smart bunch who just won’t go away.
Hawes-Davis concentrates much of the film on gathering points of view - radically divergent - before he offers any persuasion of his own. Any wildlife issue is a tricky one and most especially in the West where so many different factions battle for their idea of land use.
While the ranchers and hunters paint the coyote as a cagey predator who enjoys the “fun” of the kills, Hawes-Davis lets his camera run as camouflaged hunters lure the feisty animals with calls over speakers only to shoot them, obviously dominant with their guns. Human beings are the wiliest, most savvy and most resourceful predator of all, of course, a fact it’s hard to argue with.
Scientists weigh in on grazing issues, land use and, most interestingly, coyote reproductive habits, which ensure that this species will continue to proliferate not only in spite of hunters’ erosion but because of it.
KILLING COYOTE has everything you could want in a documentary - new voices to hear, a hotly charge issue, an even handed representation of the issues intricacies, and, best of all, an intimacy with a world that is not readily obvious.