Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grizzly Man directed by Werner Herzog

Grizzly Man is the story of Timothy Treadwell (1957-2003) who lived with grizzlies in Alaska for thirteen summers. Timothy filmed his encounters with the bears and used the footage to encourage preservation of these bears. In 2003, Timothy and his girlfriend Aimee’s remains were found in Alaska after being killed and eaten by a bear.

The production companies involved in this film were Real Big Production and the Discovery Channel. Director Werner Herzog uses footage from and of Timothy, photographs and interviews of relatives, friends and authority figures to delve into the life of Treadwell. He portrays Timothy as a “deeply troubled” man whose actions on film reveal a man who is na├»ve, and has an almost innocent view of wildlife while his anger is evident against the Park Reserve Authorities and poachers. Timothy is repeatedly seen telling the bears and foxes that he loves them and is overcome with grief when a baby fox is killed by a wolf, which is contrasted with Treadwell ranting about the Park Reserve’s rules and telling them to f*** off. Treadwell’s personality is complex and double sided as we see in the documentary.

Herzog narrates the film and inserts his own opinions and blatantly states if he disagrees with what has been said or the actions of the character. The film maker briefly appears in the film while interviewing Jewel who is one of Timothy’s ex-girlfriends and a few times he is heard asking interview questions. Hearing the narrator of the story doing interviews made me aware of the film maker’s hand in crafting this film and choosing what to show the viewer. The interviews were done on location and would often feature places Treadwell had been with the person being interviewed. This kept the film in the wild like Timothy was, Treadwell spent his time in natural settings and now the interviews are being conducted in their natural environment. Sound in the film included music by Richard Thompson as well as the nature noises of Timothy Treadwell’s footage and the background noise of the interviews with loud buzzing of insects for the Kodiak Island pilot’s interview.

Treadwell captured gorgeous moments with his work which would be impossible to get on film in other circumstances. Using his footage in the film gave it a depth about Treadwell that would not have been achieved with just the use of photographs and was the main source of footage. Treadwell’s footage is primary source material for the documentary. One scene that sticks with me is of Treadwell standing in the Grizzly Maze talking to the camera about how he has survived with the grizzlies and as he moves a subtitle flashes saying that just behind Treadwell is where he would be killed in a few days. This is startling and then seeing from a plane the route Timothy and Aimee took to their final destination added to the finality of their expedition and work. The filming of the route struck me as a unique way to approach the tragedy since no one knows exactly what happened during the attack, seeing the route they took is as close to the truth of the attack as we can get.

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