Searching for Eddie Running Wolf, a feature length documentary by director Thomas Hartmann, defies easy classification. The film is a buddy picture/road trip, mixed with a mystery. On a deeper level, it visits a nightmarish psychological breakdown, parent-child relationships, and the nature and function of art. It jumbles genres, but the effect becomes hypnotic.
The film screened at the Anthem Film Festival, part of the libertarian FreedomFest conference, July 8-11, 2015, at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. The inspiration for creating the film was to document the search for an artist who had promised to deliver a commissioned work, a statue, but who had not been heard from in years.
The statue had been commissioned by filmmaker Thomas Hartmann’s father, Dr. Joseph Hartmann. The doctor and his wife Sharon had long been patrons of artist Eddie Running Wolf. Their house is practically a museum of his work. Running Wolf was supposed to carve a life-size marble nude of Ayn Rand’s iconic heroine Dominique Francon from The Fountainhead. The younger Hartmann and his buddy from childhood, Juan Montelongo, also a filmmaker, go looking for Eddie almost as a lark.
Eddie Running Wolf was a Colorado legend. At a young age, he adopted a wolf who became his companion. He worked in a space in a famous art gallery in the Rocky Mountains. He had what appeared to be an idyllic life for an artist. When Harmann and Montelongo find him, however, his life is far from ideal.
Now, practically in hiding, he is just Ed Wolf, with two kids and a wife who is about to have a schizophrenic episode. The filmmakers are interviewing Eddie and his wife Melissa when a chemical imbalance in her brain causes a nervous breakdown. The happy-go-lucky buddy movie takes a very dark turn at this point.
The film goes on to explore Eddie’s personal and professional decisions in the wake of this crisis.
Stylistically, the film is cinema verité. Hartman likes to set up the camera and begin filming people, with the knowledge that the camera is there, but without any knowledge of what he is about to ask them. After the screening I asked him if any of the scenes were staged or recreated. Other than that people were aware of the camera, he said that everything was real.
Hartmann is a one man film company. When not doing documentaries, he does music videos and films weddings. Being your own editor is dangerous. I thought the editing could have been tighter, especially in the early buddy-movie sequences where we watch Hartmann and Montelongo joking around as they search for Eddie.
Hartmann does make good use of some home movie footage, comparing his youth, to Eddie’s and that of Eddie’s children.
Hartmann’s father ultimately decides to have the statue he wants produced by someone else. He orders over the internet from a studio in China. When the statue arrives, the contrast between the “mail order” Dominique and Eddie’s partially finished work is striking – it is generic versus inspired.
I recommend you see this film, so I won’t give away how all of this is resolved.
Searching for Eddie Running Wolf is an example of a documentary where the filmmaker sets out to do one story, but the journey takes him in totally unexpected directions. To find out about future screenings, check the film’s website or Facebook page. You can watch the trailer here.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0446584827,0452273331,1503250709,0451147952]