RiverRun 2018: Among Wolves

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Dir. Shawn Convey, USA/Bosnia, 2016, 87 min

“I got my first gun on the first of October, 1991,” says Zeljko. “And I turned 18 on the 15th of October. I wasn’t even 18 when I got the gun. Half a year after that I was captured. I was in prison in Knin for a month. After prison, I was in a hospital for a bit… home care, and stuff, and then war again until January 1996. And when you turn 23, you have to try and manage, somehow, to survive.”

The difficulty of surviving after war is the subject of Among Wolves, Shawn Covey’s affecting documentary about a small mountain community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While veterans have traditionally gravitated to outlaw motorcycle clubs as a means of reclaiming the cohesion, purpose and identity of their combat experience, the Wolves is a little different: Under the leadership of Lija, a commander during the war, it’s a humanitarian organization with strong discipline — Lija even threatens a younger member with expulsion for popping wheelies. 

The gender politics of the motorcycle club remain largely unexamined in this film, and so it becomes a chronicle of how men cope with the scars of war — partying, performing charity work, caring for horses, fooling around with old artillery pieces and participating in memorial commemorations. With the exception of a nun whose orphanage is the beneficiary of the bikers’ charity work, the women in Livno, and their struggles to cope with the war’s lingering damage, remain invisible. While largely excluding women from the narrative, the film focuses on a herd of wild horses inhabiting the rugged mountains that marked the front line of the fighting. The survival of the herd provides a metaphor for both the cohesion of the motorcycle club and the survival of their post-war society. Among Wolves will leave an indelible impression on viewers, but the pacing drags, making the film feel much longer than its 87 minutes. 

Among Wolves screens at A/perture 2 on April 21 at 10:30 a.m., on April 22 at 1:30 p.m. and on April 23 at 1:30 p.m. Director Shawn Convey attends all screenings.

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