Documentary can be a powerful genre of cinema. It can entertain us, inform us, enthrall us, and provide a view of both sides of a particular argument. But it’s quite rare to find one which doesn’t achieve those things through influence or sometimes even sheer force. Grizzly Man is an engaging, honest, and powerful example of documentary cinema that doesn’t speak for the footage but rather allows the footage to speak for itself.
Grizzly Man is about Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard who were killed while living amongst the grizzly bears of Alaska.
Although the director is Werner Herzog, it is the late Treadwell himself who should really be credited with the title. Herzog took the 100 plus hours of footage shot by Treadwell during five of his thirteen years of living in the Alaskan wild with grizzly bears, and basically edited it together, adding some newly shot footage of his own of close friends and family of the late adventurer. But even so, Herzog’s talent as a filmmaker continues; he is clearly a man who knows what he’s doing when it comes to the medium and the way he edits it together, along with a fitting voice-over narration by him, results in a quality that wouldn’t be there had it been a different director who had took the project on.
Treadwell is a fantastic personality to be with; he’s enthusiastic, funny, eccentric, happy, and fun to watch. But above all it’s his determination and love for what he did and his choice to spend this amount of time with these bears that truly makes his story worth telling and his fate all that more tragic. He believed so much in his beloved animals and was happy just to be with them. And he knew – he knew that there was an absolute possibility that these bears could rip him to shreds at any moment and yet still he persevered every year for thirteen summers until his shocking, but not altogether surprising, death at the claws of one of his much loved bears came about. There’s something sadly poetic about his fate; although it’s tragic in principle, it’s almost fitting that he spent the last of his time alive with the animals he loved so dearly.