Local filmmaker creates documentary about red wolves

There was no major at Jeff Mittelstadt's prestigious school titled, "Dr. Doolittleism."

But that's okay, he didn't want to talk to the animals so much as know what they were thinking.

"At Davidson College, I got my degree in psychology but that was because of my interest in animal cognition and behavior," Jeff says about his education. "And then, while in psychology, I got interested in how do people disagree - different stakeholders - how do they interact with each other?"

He put the love of animals and desire to resolve human conflict together, after getting a graduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill that helped him become a filmmaker.

As he earned that degree, he met a man in the middle of one of the biggest animal-related conflicts in North Carolina: the reintroduction of the red wolf to the northeastern part of the state.

Chris Lucash was part of the reintroduction program but what Chris was not interested in reintroducing was a film crew to his work with the wolves.

Jeff worked alone and when he first met Chris, "I put out my hand, I was all excited, I wanted to shake his hand - and I was smiling, giddy really," Jeff said. "And I said, 'Hi, my name is Jeff.' And he didn't smile and he didn't shake my hand. He said, 'You know, we've never invited a film crew back.' And he just turned around and walked into the woods."

Jeff won Chris over with his dedication to not wanting to direct the process of capturing Chris' work on video ... but by simply being a fly on the wall, so to speak.

Jeff began to see that farmers weren't necessarily out to get the red wolves.

"The biggest thing from the red wolf side is thinking one is a coyote, shooting it and it ending up being a red wolf," he says.

And the lasting lesson he learned from Chris was that a purpose-driven life is one worth living, even when cut short by a tragedy.

"It was that idea that if we lived our life with purpose, tried to make the world a better place, we're in a better situation with dying."