For our second August documentary and also our final film of the summer documentary Series, we will be watching another film by acclaimed director Werner Herzog, and that film is the fascinating and compelling Grizzly Man.
The film is about Timothy Treadwell who spent 13 summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, living with bears. Over time, he believed the bears trusted him and would allow him to approach them; sometimes he would even touch them. Treadwell filmed his exploits, and used the films to raise public awareness of the problems faced by bears in North America. In 2003, at the end of his 13th visit, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked, killed and partially eat by a bear; the events which led to the attack are unknown.
For Grizzly Man, Herzog used sequences extracted from more than 100 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during his last five years of his life, and conducted interviews with Treadwell's family and friends, as well as bear and nature experts. Park rangers and bear experts give counterpoints to statements and actions by Treadwell, such as his repeated claims that he is defending the bears from poachers. Park rangers point out that while the bears may be subject to habitat loss and climate change, etc. there was never a recorded incident of poaching at this national park. Treadwell had also convinced himself that he had gained the trust of certain bears, enough to walk up and pet them like dogs. Park rangers again point out that bears are still wild and potentially dangerous animals, and that it was amazing that Treadwell survived as many years as he did without being mauled. One park ranger is so astonished by Treadwell's actions that he thinks the bears themselves were so confused by Treadwell's direct casual contact that they weren't quite sure how to react at first.
Herzog also narrates, and offers his own interpretations of the events. In his narration, he depicts Treadwell as a disturbed man who many have had a death wish toward the end of his life, but does not condemn him for this.
Upon its North American theatrical release, Grizzly Man received almost universal acclaim amongst critics. The film has a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. David Denby of The New Yorker said, "Narrating in his extraordinary German-accented English, Herzog is fair-minded and properly respectful of Treadwell's manic self-invention. He even praises Treadwell as a good filmmaker: as Treadwell stands talking in the foreground of the frame, the bears play behind him or scoop up salmon in sparkling water; in other shots, a couple of foxes leap across the grass in the middle of a Treadwell monologue. The footage is full of stunning incidental beauties."
The late Roger Ebert awarded the film 4/4 stars saying, "I have a certain admiration for his courage, recklessness, idealism, whatever you want to call it, but here is a man who managed to get himself and his girlfriend eaten, and you know what? He deserves Werner Herzog."
Herzog is well known for his eccentric subjects who often border on, if not plunge headlong into, madness. He finds these broken characters the most interesting and gives their lives the stories they deserve. You will not want to miss this wonderfully mesmerizing portrait of man who walked that fine line between passion and insanity. Hope to see you there!
Here's the trailer: