MIFF Review: In The Land of Wolves

Grace McKenzie’s sophomore directorial feature In the Land of Wolves is, unequivocally, the finest Australian documentary of 2018. A measured, graceful, hauntingly beautiful study of people in the Georgian wilderness that shines. Gorgeously photographed and edited, it’s a sumptuous work of quiet power. Beguiling.

It’s been six long years since Grace McKenzie gave us her first documentary feature Audrey of the Alps and, gladly, I can say it’s been worth the wait. In the Land of Wolves shows that keen eye for drawing out humanity in her subjects has lost none of its potency. Given the evocative backdrop of Georgia’s mountainous terrain, which illicits both awe and chills from its bleak beauty, this is a feature about people who have nothing yet are as complex, fascinating and endearing as anywhere else in the world.

Set in the lush Caucasus Mountains of Georgia we meet Jimmy, an affable deaf and mute gentleman, who happens to be the local turkey farmer. Life’s not been as kind for Jimmy, whose getting a divorce and an ensuing custody battle is on the horizon. On top of that, he’s facing strained relationship with his family to keep the farm going.

Alongside Jimmy, we meet a host of the locals, all with separate ambitions and peccadillos. Sveta, who runs a vineyard, and Jean-Jacques, a French import, brings dreams of innovation to the farming community are principally explored, among surrounding characters.

In the Land of Wolves works so well as McKenzie, who also shot the footage, allows the characters draw themselves out. It doesn’t feel forced or ostensibly attached to a narrative treatment, yet it is quietly enthralling exploring these people and their world.

In moments, too, it is quite confronting in it’s matter-of-fact approach to aspects of life out here (there’s footage of live animal slaughter), but that only enhances this intimate portrait of an existence in a different world than ours.

Funny, touching, intimate and intoxicating, In the Land of the Wolves is a beautifully framed documentary that washes over you. It reaffirms what a talent we have in Grace McKenzie and just how relevant the non fiction format is in telling contemporary stories.