One of the must-see film experiences of 2005 has to be Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man.
His stunning new documentary examines the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a man whose fascination with grizzly bears was on a par with Dian Fossey's passion for gorillas. But, this man who captured his own last five summers over 13 with them on video was often reckless and misanthropic in ways drawn with sharp irony by Herzog.
Out in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve in October 2003, the remains of Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were found near their campsite. They were the first known victims of a bear attack at the park and the suspected grizzly was later gunned down by park officials.
Part of the strength of Herzog's achievement is the mystery of Treadwell's life keeping close friends in the dark about his real background and how personal problems and criminal mischief eventually led to a vocation of wildlife preservation and founder of the organization of Grizzly People. Visiting Alaska for the first time in the summer of 1989 at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, he was inspired to devote his life to protect the bears.
After chronicling his experiences in photographs and diaries for a decade, Minolta loaned their digital equipment to the Grizzly People, the organization co-founded with Jewel Palovak. And the cameras present a vision over the last five years that Herzog explores with opinions from colleagues, friends, and family, as well as wildlife experts, and environmentalists.
The documentary isn't chronological and is able to manifest warm and wild sides of a zealous individual, a self-made naturalist. This anti-Hemingway hero has at least one miraculous moment in the wilderness that makes his visual document that much more potent. Before noticing the grizzlies he had celebrity and movie star aspirations, and Herzog feels the need to present him at times as a larger-than-life figure.
Even if Treadwell comes across as egocentric and strange, there is a palpable nearness to what is unorthodox, yet a vivid pursuit that few bear the responsibility that comes with it. The subject carries much controversy from the Alaskans, to the wildlife experts and park officials when it came to issues of fear of humans and poaching. Yet, the mystery through Herzog's nuanced narration blossoms into something hardly exploitative and increasingly desirable for audiences to experience discrete footage in a telling audio excerpt of a man who sat with the likes of David Letterman and probably thought his life ended in the manner he preferred.