“Mission Wolf: An Experiment in Living”

A volunteer works with one of the Mission Wolf residents. The film “Mission Wolf: An Experiment in Living” earned Best Documentary Feature and a standing ovation at the Lyons International Film Festival this past spring.

Buena Vista – Twenty-five miles southwest of Westcliffe lies a wolf refuge founded more than 27 years ago, Mission Wolf.

Mission Wolf serves as a nonprofit sanctuary for wolves and an educational opportunity for people to improve human-animal relationships.

Now, thanks to the independent documentary film team NeeNee Productions, the story of the sanctuary wolves and the volunteers who nurture and bond with them will be spread beyond Custer County.

Westcliffe will host the premiere public screening of “Mission Wolf: An Experiment in Living” Aug. 15.

Originally from Buena Vista, Emma Whitehead, producer and outreach manager with NeeNee Productions, said she is ecstatic to get the word out about this award-winning documentary.

Even while growing up in Buena Vista, Whitehead had been exposed to film production all her life.

“My dad produced a travel/history show called ‘Colorado Getaways’ on CBS for many years, so I got to learn a lot from him growing up,” she said.

A few years ago, she met NeeNee Productions founder Gayle Nosal and began helping her with the film “Sauti” about five teenaged girls in a Ugandan refugee settlement.

Ever since she was young, Whitehead had heard about Mission Wolf and the work that was done there. Getting to work on this film project was especially exciting for her.

“I think the idea to tell the story about the humans taking care of the wolves was equally important and a lesser understood angle,” she said. “The way communities are formed around a common goal, the parallels with wildness and the natural world, people taking care of each other as well as the animals – I think all of those themes bring depth to this story.

“To me this film speaks to some of these deeply human instincts for connection, for purpose and how we may not be as separate from nature as we may think.”

Whitehead gives plenty of praise for Nosal and fellow crew members Beret Strong and John Tweedy. Getting to work with them on “Mission Wolf” was an incredible experience, she said.

“They are an exceptional group of filmmakers with a unique approach to documentary work. They bring so much nuance, depth and thoughtfulness to storytelling, and that ends up creating really powerful films,” Whitehead said.

“Mission Wolf” made its debut April 6 to a sold-out audience at Lyons International Film Festival, where it was awarded Best Documentary Feature and received a standing ovation from the audience.

The festival celebrates independent films from Colorado and beyond, including environmental documentaries, outdoor recreational adventure films and international shorts, according to its website.

“It was an honor to see the film be recognized at Lyons Film Festival. Filmmakers go through such a long process of editing and refining and re-editing, so finally bringing the story to others is an incredibly special moment,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead and the rest of NeeNee Productions look forward to premiering the film in Westcliffe and are excited to have members of the Mission Wolf community present to share in the experience with the audience.

“Growing up in BV, I know what a close-knit community it is. I also know how much people value our connection to nature. It’s a big part of our identity and why we all live there,” Whitehead said. “I think watching this film will remind people of what it’s like to be part of a small, different kind of community that shares a lot of the same values and can live beautifully together, even if we all are very different from one another.”

After the Westcliffe screening, NeeNee Productions will launch a community screening program to help communities organize public screenings of the film. This and more information on “Mission Wolf” can be found at missionwolffilm.com.

“Since this film is really about community, our hope is to partner with schools, churches, individuals, community organizations, etc. in communities around the U.S. to host events for the film, hopefully including BV,” Whitehead said.

The Chaffee County Times in Buena Vista is published by Arkansas Valley Publishing Co., the parent company of The Mountain Mail.

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