First of all, about that title…
American Bolshevik isn't a History Channel joint or a new Steven Seagal actioner, but a documentary promoting the preservation of … the coyote (?). The title is bit of a stretch—the filmmakers very tenuously connect the endangered species to Russian revolutionaries—and might actually work against this engaging documentary.
American Bolshevik opens with sepia-tinted photos and voiceover about Man's concerted exploitation and extermination many animal species encountered during Manifest Destiny. It then jumps to complaints by residents of Newport, Rhode Island that some critters are coming out of the woods to snatch their pet dogs.
Its true subject is the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study, which quantifies the effects of "persecution, harassment, and poisoning" of the coyote population. Among the startling statistics: since the 1920s, over six million coyotes have been killed by poison. Despite this, the breed has proven resilient, multiplying and spreading to regions of North America where they hadn't been previously (hello, Rhode Island). American Bolshevik suggests we humans learn to live harmoniously with them.
The film's main talking head is Numi Mitchell, the enthusiastic director of the Narragansett Bay Study. She has for years tagged and tracked coyotes and documented their habits. Along the way we get insights from Diana Prince, philanthropist; Dan Flores, historian (who cites folklore that the coyote has been seen as a "flawed deity"); Chris Schadler of the New Hampshire Wildlife Coalition, and most notably Rolland Bellotti, identified simply as a "sharpshooter." Mr. Bellotti's gruffness contrasts nicely with Ms. Mitchell's strident altruism. Despite their contradictory missions—he hunts coyotes to kill them while she does so to study them—he and Ms. Mitchell have become unlikely allies.
American Bolshevik is directed by Julie Marron, whose previous films are Happygram (2015) and Four Games in Fall (2020). Her style in this is straightforward. Don't expect flashiness—the presentation eschews the frills of most modern documentaries, i.e. animation, reenactments, etc. Cinematography by Edward Eacueo and Dan Licht looks to have been captured on the run; these coyotes are fast, after all. The inclusion of Disney's 1961 cartoon The Coyote's Lament (which would be a better title for this film) shows early drumbeating for the cause.
American Bolshevik is designed to screen at fundraisers, chambers of commerce, and in high schools. More power to it: act locally, after all. The film’s message is simple: that it’s high time we humans see our animal brethren not just as inconveniences but as intelligent beings with sophisticated social systems. American Bolshevik is a worthy step in that direction.
American Bolshevik. Written and directed by Julie Marron. 125 minutes. Released to video and streaming platforms by Lemon Martini Productions, 2023.