Interview with Suzanne Moulton, Director, Lead Fabricator, and Workshop Presenter Nowheres Wolf
Recently, the Endangered Species Coalition had the honor of interviewing Suzanne Moulton, Director of Nowheres Wolf, a stop-motion animation with the goal of shifting perceptions of wolves. The film, currently under production, demonstrates the sentience of wolves and reveals caring relationships within wolf families. To learn more about this incredible project, visit: https://www.nowhereswolf.com/
Jeanne Dodds, Endangered Species Coalition, Creative Engagement Director: What inspires and ignites your work integrating animation, textile sculpture, and species conservation?
Suzanne Moulton, Director, Lead Fabricator, and Workshop Presenter Nowheres Wolf: Stop-motion animation is a great way for kids to learn about animals and nature. Textiles and natural fibers are materials everyone can recognize; nearly everyone has had a favorite stuffed toy. What’s special about stop-motion animation is that puppets are created to make the animation. The use of common materials makes this art form accessible to children and excites them to get involved and express themselves. Children are already enthusiastic about cartoon characters. Inspiring them about a real creature through animation perfectly blends art and advocacy. Reaching kids is important, as they have the ability to impact and change the hearts and minds of their families. Once they find something they really love, kids are the most powerful advocates out there.
JD: Can you talk a bit about the Nowheres Wolf project: what is it about? Where did the idea/inspiration for the project originate? And what are the project goals?
SM:Our Nowheres Wolf film is inspired by a specific wolf, OR-7, now known as Journey. I began following OR-7 back when he entered California. I was living in California and witnessed the excitement that he brought to communities, regardless of their backgrounds. It was amazing how so many people were celebrating the return of this iconic keystone species. I wanted to continue keeping that excitement alive here in Oregon. Our project has already reached hundreds of people who weren’t aware of OR-7’s story. It’s such a fun story to share as he’s still living, and it’s one of the few wildlife stories with a happy outcome.
Our film shows just a piece of Journey’s life. It’s extrapolated from eyewitness accounts, documentaries, books and information about where he was located. From all this data, we filmmakers saw the story of a wolf longing to belong and searching for family, something we can all relate to. One of our main goals is for people to start seeing wolves as a family creature, a very caring and loyal creature, one that is far different than the rabid animal that is commonly portrayed by Hollywood. I also was inspired by moms worriedly posting, wondering for their kids safety in wolf reintroduction areas and I really wanted them to have a positive resource to share as a family. We want to create some beautiful art that is inclusive to all communities, resonates with their hearts, and helps everyone feel included in figuring out successful coexistence with wolves in our modern world and be proud to say, “Now Here’s Wolf!”
JD: Why, in your view, do you think that there are so many misconceptions about wolves? What role does art/creative practices such as animation have in reframing inaccurate perceptions and beliefs?
SM: In understanding the issues facing wolves, I began seeing how much misinformation about wolves is out there. There are a lot of negative portrayals of wolves in Hollywood films. It’s really sensationalized information. As creators of culture, artists have a lot of responsibility. With so many artists out there who love and are inspired by wolves, they are already powerful allies for wildlife advocacy and have the ability to create an emotional message to move people into action.
A lot of the time the public’s only interaction with wild animals is when a big film about them comes out. These films fundamentally form people’s perceptions of that animal. In the majority of films out there with wolves in them, wolves are shown as the villain. In very few films is the wolf depicted as the loyal protector. I think a lot of our fears of wolves go back to lore and fairy tales. We keep sharing those tall tales like the Big Bad Wolf, Red Riding Hood and werewolves. And then when we look at the real creatures, we’re looking at them through this lens of lore. In my research, I found that many of these fairy tales originated back in the Dark Ages, where not only were humans facing epic plagues but so were animals. Europeans had encounters with wolves experiencing rabies and I think those views carried over into the Americas with colonization. These perceptions continues to shape our views when we hear about reports of wolf predation on livestock. We seem to forget that healthy wolves target the sick and weak. Little reporting is done on the ranchers who embrace this as a cost of doing business which benefits the overall health of their herd. Now, with Yellowstone as a clear picture of a working ecosystem that requires wolves, we’re seeing how much wolves really contribute to the management of resources we all depend on like aquifers and drinking water. Many of these connections between the role of wildlife maintaining the natural resources that we depend on just don’t make it to headlines in local papers.
JD: Alternatively, why do you think so many people connect so deeply and profoundly with wolves? What is it about this animal that resonates, in a very powerful and personal way, with humans?
SM:They are a powerful animal who shares a lot of the good sides of human nature, from being loyal and sharing to adopting orphaned young ones; wolves reflect that. I think many of us love the freedom and wildness the wolf represents. When you look into a calm wolf’s eyes, you can see the origins of everything we love about our best friends, the domesticated dog. We can see unconditional love, untamed and wild. New studies have revealed that wolves are even more sharing than any dog breed. What is really impressive is the more we learn about wolf social behavior, the more we can help our family dogs find their own identities, heal from traumas and relearn how to socialize with other dogs.
JD: What do you hope that the audience for the stop-motion animation takes away from seeing the film?
SM:I hope when audiences, especially kids, see our stop-motion film they will get excited about a real-life wolf, feel a deep connection with Journey emotionally and understand that wolves are complicated creatures who much more vulnerable and kind than audiences thought before. We hope our film will be a conversation starter and help more people on a path to better understand real wolf behavior, replacing fear with respect and giving more visibility to science based programs like Wolf Ways.1
JD: Broadly, what do you see as the unique value of art in communicating about biodiversity and species conservation?
SM:Art stirs people’s emotions and thoughts with much more immediacy—it’s the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Art can bring clear and simple understanding to a very complicated issue. It can illustrate something that might be very “science-y” and dry and stir emotions, inspiring people to act.
JD: How can people become involved with supporting this stop-motion animation project?
SM: We’ve just recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Seed&Spark, a site designed to help filmmakers like us. We have really cool rewards for our supporters there, including a very special package of an animation tutorial using our wolf pup puppets and getting guided by some of the industry’s top animators that are working on our project!
To watch the Trailer and Behind-The-Scenes Videos: