Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Werner Herzog|
|Produced by||Erik Nelson
|Written by||Werner Herzog|
|Narrated by||Werner Herzog|
|Music by||Richard Thompson|
|Edited by||Joe Bini|
|Distributed by||Lions Gate Films (USA)
Revolver Entertainment (UK)
Discovery Channel (TV)
|Running time||100 minutes|
Grizzly Man is a 2005 documentary film by German director Werner Herzog. It chronicles the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. The film consists of Treadwell's own footage of his interactions with grizzly bears before he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by a bear in 2003, and of interviews with people who knew or were involved with Treadwell. The footage he shot was later found, and the final film was co-produced by Discovery Docs, the Discovery Channel's theatrical documentary unit, and Lions Gate Entertainment. The film's soundtrack is by British singer songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson.
Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Over time, he believed the bears trusted him and would allow him to approach them; sometimes he would even touch them. Treadwell was repeatedly warned by park officials that his interaction with the bears was unsafe to both him and to the bears. "At best, he's misguided," Deb Liggett, superintendent at Katmai and Lake Clark national parks, told the Anchorage Daily News in 2001. "At worst, he's dangerous. If Timothy models unsafe behavior, that ultimately puts bears and other visitors at risk." 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 eaten by a bear; the events which led to the attack are unknown.
In order for this film to be produced, it was necessary for Jewel Palovak, co-founder of Grizzly People and close friend of Treadwell’s, to approve the production of the documentary. Logistical as well as sentimental factors needed to be taken into account regarding the footage. Grizzly People is a “grassroots organization,” concerned with the treatment of bears, that Palovak and Treadwell started together. After his death, Palovak was left with control of Grizzly People and all 100 hours of archival footage. As Treadwell's close friend, ex-girlfriend and confidante, she also had a large emotional stake in the production. Palovak had known Treadwell since 1985 and felt a deep sense of responsibility to her late friend and his legacy. He had often discussed the subject of his video archives with her. "Timothy was very dramatic," she once said. She quoted Treadwell as saying, "'If I die, if something happens to me, make that movie. You make it. You show ’em.' I thought that Werner Herzog could definitely do that."
For Grizzly Man, Herzog used sequences extracted from more than 100 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during the 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 approach them and pet them like dogs. Park rangers again point out that bears are 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 astonished by Treadwell's actions, believing that the bears themselves were so confused by Treadwell's direct casual contact that they weren't quite sure how to react at first. Other park rangers point out that not only were the bears not under threat from any poachers, but Treadwell himself almost assuredly put the bears in danger: By familiarizing them with human contact, he increased the likelihood that they would approach human habitation looking for food, possibly resulting in a confrontation in which animal control would have to kill them. Ironically, if there were potential poachers, Treadwell's contact with the bears would have removed their fear of human contact, meaning they would not flee the poachers.
The film documents the events leading up to Treadwell's death. In 2003, Treadwell was camping in Katmai National Park with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard. Treadwell usually left the park at the end of summer but this year stayed into early October, exposing himself and Huguenard to greater danger as the bears began aggressively storing up calories for the winter. Herzog speculates that staying later in the season caused Treadwell's death.
Herzog also narrates and offers his own interpretations of the events. Herzog concludes that Treadwell had a sentimental view of nature, which Herzog instead sees as cold and harsh, and that this sentimentality, and inability to recognize the danger he was in, led to his death.
The audio recording of the fatal attack captured by Treadwell's video camera is not played in the film. Instead, Herzog is shown listening to it on earphones clearly disturbed. In fact, Herzog advises Palovak (the owner of the tape) to destroy it immediately rather than listen to it. He later repudiated his own advice, saying it was “Stupid... silly advice born out of the immediate shock of hearing—I mean, it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Being shocked like that, I told her, ‘You should never listen to it, and you should rather destroy it. It should not be sitting on your shelf in your living room all the time.’ [But] she slept over it and decided to do something much wiser. She did not destroy it but separated herself from the tape, and she put it in a bank vault."
Palovak later receives Treadwell's wristwatch from the coroner, who found it on Treadwell's arm, one of the few remaining pieces of his body. This same watch was spoken of earlier in the film by Willy Fulton, the pilot who discovered the bodies of Treadwell and his girlfriend. During the movie, he recalls seeing the lone arm with the wristwatch and not being able to keep the image out of his mind.
Grizzly Man premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and its limited US theater release began on August 12, 2005. It was later released on DVD in the United States on December 26, 2005. The Discovery Channel aired Grizzly Man on television on February 3, 2006; its three-hour presentation of the film included a 30-minute companion special that delved deeper into Treadwell's relationship with the bears and addressed controversies surrounding the film. The DVD release of the film is missing an interview with Treadwell by David Letterman that was shown in the original theatrical release, where Letterman jokes that Treadwell will eventually be eaten by a bear. However, the versions televised on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet both retain this scene.
Upon its North American theatrical release, Grizzly Man received almost universal acclaim amongst critics. The film has a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and placed at No. 94 on Slant Magazine's best 100 films of the 2000s.
"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."
"'I will protect these bears with my last breath', Treadwell says. After he and Amie become the first and only people to be killed by bears in the park, the bear that is guilty is shot dead. Treadwell's watch, still ticking, is found on his severed arm. 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 a skillful filmmaker so a large percentage of those who watch the movie Grizzly Man, overlook Timothy's amazing way with animals even though to me this stands out very strongly. The fact that Timothy spent an incredible 35,000 hours, spanning 13 years, living with the bears in Katmai National Park, without any previous mishap, escapes people completely. Even with his city-kid background, I found myself mesmerized by what he could do with animals."
However, Russell also says that he was baffled by Treadwell's "inane" behavior, and by his lack of proper preparation for bear attacks.
Grizzly Man opened on August 12, 2005 in 29 theatres in North America. It grossed US$269,131 ($9,280 per screen) in its opening weekend. At its widest point, it played at 105 theatres, and made US$3,178,403 during its run.
|Alfred P. Sloan Prize Winner
The House of Sand