Directed by Werner Herzog, starring Timothy Treadwell.
Just as 2005 was a great year for documentaries, so 2006 starts with another fine addition to the genre. 'Grizzly Man', German director Werner Herzog's new study of life at the extremes, tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a misfit who found his calling amongst the bears in Alaska and paid for it with his life.
A failed actor (he lost out on the Woody role in 'Cheers') who battled alcoholism, Treadwell became something of a celebrity in the US through his work with eco warriors Grizzly People. Every summer Treadwell would decamp to Alaska, live with the bears, shoot video diaries where both he and they were the stars and show a disregard for his own personal safety by behaving as if he were the presenter on a children's TV programme who, as one interviewee succinctly puts it here, acted "like he was working with people wearing bear costumes". In 2003 Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed by a grizzly, having decided to return to the wilderness for the winter months.
Combining Herzog's beautiful footage with the brilliant moments captured by Treadwell himself, 'Grizzly Man' brings you closer to nature but also pushes you away from its main subject. While Treadwell was undoubtedly a one-off - "a star by virtue of his own invention" as Herzog puts it - his decision to abandon the civilised world did not involve him divesting himself of his ego, and he comes across as someone so driven by his own full-on
self-importance that he couldn't see the forest for the trees. His antics summon up a mixture of anger, pity and laughter, but you never bond with him and his claims that he's protecting bears in a national park from poachers come across as wishful thinking.
Herzog pulls no punches in his assessment of Treadwell's actions, but it's tempered with compassion for a mixed-up man and a desire to make some sense of him. Treadwell died as he had wanted to: among the bears. His inability to accept that there was a world he could respect but never actually be part of granting him his own wish and, through this film, a kind immortality in nature.