Why Rod's Story?
When I moved to Wisconsin in the fall of 2013 I was looking for my next documentary film idea. I knew there was a debate over the presence of wolves in Wisconsin at that time, and I was interested in taking on the issue. Then I found Rod Coronado’s Wolf Patrol campaign online. Nearly two years after first connecting with Rod, I have collected 250 hours of footage pertaining to his life and his efforts with Wolf Patrol.
The fact that Rod’s life has been controversial is no secret. Rod sank whaling ships and committed arson. He did his time in prison. Now, with his most radical days behind him, Rod is looking for a new kind of activism.
The radical environmental movement (Earth First!, ALF, ELF, etc) doesn’t want to claim him, and has even begun attacking him for giving up veganism, claiming that EarthFirst! is no longer a biocentrist movement, and for refusing to make Wolf Patrol about identity politics and utopian ideology. The mainstream environmental movement still seems to think his tactics are too extreme, and won’t touch him due to his record as a felon.
Indeed, it seems as if no one has anything good to say about Rod Coronado.
So why tell his story? Or to put it more succinctly, why am I, an independent filmmaker, telling his story?
The answer to this question is that as a social and environmental issue filmmaker I believe that the best way to tackle large-scale problems is through compelling stories. We’ve all seen documentaries that argue for and against an issue, films that hammer you with statistics, and films that rely on “experts” to tell you what to think. I am not interested in those types of films. I want to tell films about people. People who are struggling to do things in their lives, people who are fighting against large odds, people who dream big!
Rod Coronado in northern Wisconsin.
Rod is one of those people.
I believe that Rod's passion for, and commitment to, wildlife, is exemplary. Where many of us see large environmental and political issues as outside our sphere of influence, Rod sees things differently. He has never once stopped fighting for wildlife. Sure, his tactics, and his diet, have changed, but he still works for animals everywhere.
Over these last two years I have gotten to know Rod pretty well. And when I look at him with the eye of someone outside the environmental movement, I see a man that challenges mainstream America’s apathy and malaise.
Indeed, Rod– knowingly or not, has challenged me. Before meeting Rod I had given up on my hopes for a society that cared about the environment. I had let the optimism of my youth die. I came to believe that there was nothing we could do for the environment; that there was no way to stop the “powers that be” from destroying the earth.
Now I wonder why I gave up. I suspect that the weight of what Aldo Leopold called an “ecological education” became too much for me. I simply saw too much destruction, and didn’t want to “live alone in a world of wounds.” Or to put it more bluntly, I was tired of the depression an environmental worldview seems to bring with it.
But Rod never gave up. He’s still out there tilting at windmills. He doesn’t care if mainstream environmentalists will talk to him at the bar, but avoid him at wildlife meetings and conferences. He doesn’t care if the radicals shun him, or tell lies about him, and he doesn’t care if his new attempts at activism are misunderstood. He just keeps reinventing himself and fighting for wildlife. And this makes me ask; why did I give up; why don’t I keep fighting for wildlife?
Rod Coronado challenges me. I may not be able to take on all the issues I care about (I only have so much energy), but I can help tell Rod’s story and hope that it will inspire others– especially those who know nothing about environmentalism but are interested in Rod’s extreme story.
I can also speak out against the unsporting, inhumane, and frequently barbaric hunting practices carried out on our public lands. There are real issues with wildlife policy in the U.S. (I write about them as they pertain to this film, here), and Rod is effectively challenging them. Wisconsin’s new, and potentially “unconstitutional” “Right to Hunt” law, is testament to his effectiveness.
Finally, I don’t agree with everything he’s done in his life, and though I am not sure Rod is looking for redemption, I believe that the activist work he is doing on behalf of wolves, coyotes, and bears, may lead to a new kind of activism. Rod isn’t going to get everything right, and he is not without his faults, but he is challenging us to put down our phones and close our laptops so that we can better see what’s happening in the natural world around us.
If I were to write the perfect ending for this film, or if Rod were a fictional character whose “arc” I could control, I would have Rod become a game warden of some sort. I would have the “criminal” become the detective. Unfortunately, Rod’s record as a felon means this will never happen. Still, Rod is having frequent conversations with state and federal wildlife agents around this country. He calls them to report hunting and trapping violations he sees in our forests. He provides them with photos and video evidence of these violations. And, perhaps surprisingly, they seem to appreciate it. I may not be able to write the ending I want, and Rod may never pin a badge to his chest, but he’s out there policing hunters in his own way, and he has become an “agent” wildlife abusers don’t want to see coming. He is, at the very least, an agent of change.
So why make a film about Rod Coronado? The answer is simple: Rod’s story is controversial, but it's also inspirational, and Rod will challenge you to stand up for what you believe in.
Rod has frequently told me that living on this beautiful planet requires you to, “pay your rent.” Rod is currently paying his rent by running his Wolf Patrol campaign.
How are you paying your rent?