September 20, 2005

Grizzly Man

This past Saturday, I went and saw Grizzly Man with a couple of friends. For those of you who aren't familiar with the film, it is a documentary of Tim Treadwell, a man who was killed by a grizzly bear after living with them for 13 summers. The documentary was filmed by Werner Herzog using Treadwell's own footage. It utilized interviews from Treadwell's friends and colleagues, people who were opposed to his work in Alaska and the coroner who examined their bodies.

I thought that Herzog's documentary was an excellent example of both objective and subjective journalism. Herzog didn't use the film to sway the audience either way about Treadwell's decision to live with the grizzly bears - he let his interviews and Treadwell's own footage speak for him. Herzog did, however, narrate the film, occasionally inserting his own opinions about Treadwell and where they disagreed. While one could say that these narrations were merely bringing to light an argument against Treadwell so that the film could examine both sides of the issue, it could also be argued that with Herzog's skills at interviewing, his own opinions were not only unnecessary but took away from the film.

Regarding Herzog's interviewing skills, I thought he was a master. His interviews with Treadwell's closest friends humanize the man, while his interviews with the the Alaskan native and a man from the rescue crew bring to light some of the reasons Treadwell's mission was so vehemently opposed. The man from the rescue crew would not have been a good source on his own since his own ignorance was proved in many of his statements, but the Alakan native's take on the situation was really fantastic. He didn't try to attack Treadwell's sanity or intelligence (like the man from the rescue crew), but explained the Alaskan belief of the grizzly bear and the inherent respect the creature must command. He said that he felt sorry for Treadwell since he obviously loved the bears, yet he was disrespecting and harming the bears by pretending he could live among them safely.

Herzog's interview with the coroner was extremely disturbing. Not having known either Treadwell or the girlfriend who died with him, the coroner gave his account of the attack after examining their remains and listening to the audio tape that recorded the incident (this tape was later destroyed and not used in the film). His explanations, along with Treadwell's own footage of the bear that did the deed, were extremely compelling.

While there were certain instances where Herzog inserted his own opinion on Treadwell's fate into the film, the mere fact that my two friends and I walked out of the theater each having reached a different conclusion about the man's mission and fate is a testament to the power and skill of his journalism.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at September 20, 2005 02:18 AM | TrackBack
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