Jim Doty - Photo Blog

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Grizzly Man" Timothy Treadwell

The award winning (Sundance Festival and L.A. Film Critics) documentary film Grizzly Man is showing on the Discovery Channel this weekend. If you like nature, Alaska, bears, nature photography, or human behavior that is beyond the edge, watch this movie. Director Werner Herzog's movie provides a fair, sensitive, non-sensationalized account that is worthy of the awards it has won.

Grizzly Man is about Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled bear expert and naturalist that spend 13 summers living with the bears in Katmai National Park. Much of the footage in the movie was taken by Treadwell who spent his last few years at Katmai recording over 100 hours of footage of his bears, his foxes, and himself. He did a number of retakes of scenes of himself, so he was obviously preparing to make a movie with himself as the on camera narrator.

Timothy Treadwell, 46, and Amie Huguenard, 37
Timothy Treadwell, 46, and Amie Huguenard, 37

On October 5, 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by one or more bears. The attack was recorded on 6 minutes of audio tape. His friends grieved his death, but they were not terribly surprised. Treadwell took a lot of unnecesary risks, despite warnings from Park Rangers. After a few years with the bears, he stops using an electrified fence and quits carrying pepper spray.

He loved his bears, called them by name and treated them like friends. In some of the footage, he reaches out byond the camera lens and touches the bears on the nose. He tells each one "I love you." It is a dangerous thing to treat wild and potentially dangerous animals like cuddly friends. He sets up camp in locations that he himself called very dangerous. In other ways he lived by the rules, being scrupulously careful about food storage and cooking. He knew the bears and their behavior very well. He is a strange contradiction, being both very knowledgeable and aware, and naively foolish.

While his love for bears grows, so do his paranoid suscpicions about humans. He finds a note on a log (Hi Timothy, see you in the summer of 2001) and a happy face drawn in ink on a rock and interprets both of these as threats on his life. He goes into an angry, vulgar (bleeped out), obscene gesture (fuzzed out) filled rant against the National Park Sevice, and then does another take of his rant. In Treadwell's world, bears are perfect, people are bad, and he is the only one who cares about and protects his bears from poachers, eco-tourists, and the National Park Service.


Some of the videography is quite stunning. The fight between "Mickey" and "Sgt. Brown" is powerful and terrifying. The landscape is beautiful. There are wonderful scenes of the bears at play and him at play with the foxes that den near his campsite.

The foxes that become habituated to his presence climb on his tent, chase him across the fields, and let him stroke their fur like they are pet dogs. There is some mutuality betwen him and the foxes and he grieves when one is killed. It also conflicts with his fairy tale view of nature. He doesn't like nature "red in tooth and claw" and he is disturbed when his "perfect" bears eat the cubs when there aren't enough salmon during a drought. He yells at God for not providing enough rain so the salmon can run upstream so the bears can feed.

On October 5, Treadwell called his best friend by satellite phone with good news to share. He spotted one of his favorite sows that had been missing and he feared she had been killed by poachers. Now that she had been spotted he was ready to be picked up. Arrangments are made for a pilot to come the next day.

Treadwell shot some more video footage that afternoon. Later that day or that night, he left the tent to check on a bear. He or Amie turned the camera was on but the lens cap was left on so the final 6 minutes of tape is audio only. Mercifully, the audio is left out of the movie. The very few persons who listened to the tape describe the final minutes.

Treadwell yells that he is being attacked. His girlfriend tells him to play dead and the bear ends the attack. When Treadwell moves the bear attacks again. Huguenard attacks the bear and hits it repeatedly on the head with a pan but to no avail. Amidst his moans, Treadwell sense the end and tells his girlfriend to run away. She will not leave him and continues to fight the bear. Her screams change to shrieks. The tape runs out.

The next day the pilot who comes to pick them up is charged by a large older bear. He runs back to his plane and takes off. He flies over the camp and sees the bear over a human rib cage. He buzzes the bear but can't scare it off. He calls state troopers and Park Rangers. When they come on the scene they are charged by the same bear and have to shoot it. While they gather the few remains, they are stalked by a 3 year old bear and have to shoot it too. They take the remains and all of the camping gear and leave. Hindered by bad weather, they can't return for two days.

When they come back, all of the younger bear has been eaten except for its head. There is nothing left to tell if he was involved in the deaths. The bigger bear is 28 years old, weighs 1,000 pounds and has broken teeth. When they cut him open, he is filled with human parts and clothing. Having eaten his fill, he was hiding what was left of the remains when the pilot arrived. There is no way of knowing if he killed the couple, or came along later to take advantage of a smaller bear's kill. The whole thing was a real trajedy.

Timothy Treadwell
Timothy Treadwell and one of his beloved bears

Grizzly Man is a fascinating look at this contradictory man and the the world he loved. Director Herzog's view of nature is the opposite of Treadwell's, but he is still sensitive to Treadwell the man and his complex motives.

For further reading:

The Myth of Timothy Treadwell
A tragic loss by Lynn Rogers
News Account: Grizzly mauls, kills a bear 'expert'
Blood Brothers

Treadwell's book and Herzog's movie:


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