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DocTalks Review: Bad Coyote

When Emily Mitchell’s daughter, Taylor, set out to hike Nova Scotia’s Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the fall of 2009, the threat of a coyote attack never even crossed her mind.

She had, of course, cautioned her daughter about the potentially dangerous wildlife she might encounter – bears, moose and the like – but not coyotes.

All that changed on the afternoon of Oct. 27, when the 19-year-old budding musician was mauled by three coyotes during her trek and later died from her injuries.

This tragedy, and the events that transpired in its wake, are the impetus for director Jason Young’s Bad Coyote. The film is an insightful inquiry into the politics – and the price – of living and playing close to nature.

In this riveting 52-minute film produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Young explores the Taylor Mitchell tragedy that not only struck terror into the hearts of Nova Scotians across the region, but that prompted the provincial government to issue a controversial bounty for dead coyotes after increased media coverage and reports of coyote attacks and sightings.

Young goes far beyond the surface of this issue. He explores the deeper problems behind the perceived threat of a new Eastern Canadian “super species” of half-coyote-half-wolf infiltrating local communities, namely the highly contentious debate over a solution.

While some featured in the film, largely trappers and hunters, argue that “the only good coyote is a dead coyote,” others, including wildlife experts and advocates – and even the mother of young Taylor Mitchell herself – suggest that the only way to confront this alleged new menace is not to gun them down, but to learn how to coexist with wildlife.

Bad Coyote made its Fredericton debut at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre last Thursday evening as part of the 2014 DOCTalks Festival & Symposium. The powerful film had audience members gasping, cringing and even wiping away the occasional tear.

In the projected Skype call that followed the presentation, Young, a self-described animal lover, called the production of the film “an incredible, emotional journey.” It certainly shows.

Bad Coyote is Young’s third film produced by the National Film Board of Canada and will be available for download on iTunes April 21.

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