“Experiencing life and understanding people. That’s why I’m a director.” – Werner Herzog
...because Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" is the ultimate nature documentary. Herzog’s film chronicles the tragic life of Timothy Treadwell, whose fascination with grizzly bears led him to live among them in the wild. Yet the film is as much about the limits of human nature as it is the boundaries of the natural world. As a filmmaker, Herzog tells stories about individuals whose visionary obsession drives them to madness and ruin – and "Grizzly Man" is no exception.
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While Herzog directed the film, Treadwell shot most of the Alaskan nature footage himself. Herzog took the project on after Treadwell’s death, filming interviews with Treadwell’s friends and family. In doing so, Herzog compiled a more complete picture of what drove Treadwell to cross so many established boundaries between man and nature. At the same time, much of the most compelling footage comes from Treadwell himself, collected and arranged by Herzog and his editor, Joe Bini.
As a filmmaker, Herzog is clearly intrigued by Treadwell’s willingness to test his own limits. However, the film is careful not to endorse Treadwell’s actions. A character in his own right who often winds up in the forefront, Herzog is also cautious to avoid becoming the object of his own documentary. Instead, he focuses the film on Treadwell and his relationship to the animals he loved. Yet the film itself shows no sentimentality about grizzly bears. While they may be impressive, even majestic creatures, "Grizzly Man" shows without a doubt that they are still wild and dangerous animals.
Herzog’s directorial touch also becomes evident in Treadwell’s footage. Although Treadwell set out to film bears, over time he incorporated himself into more and more of the footage. In doing so, he became the subject of the footage as much as the bears themselves. From Treadwell’s point of view, grizzly bears and humans shared a special bond that he hoped to prove. However, Treadwell could push himself to become more like a grizzly bear, but the reverse was not true. The tragedy of the film ultimately lies in Treadwell’s inability to see that grizzly bears could never view him as one of their own.
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