Nominee: Best Spiritual Documentary of 2005
Uncomfortable in civilization, Timothy Treadwell seeks to blur the lines between human and animal. He befriends grizzly bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park. Armed with a video camera, he aims to preserve the innocence and purity of the natural world. His footage is beautiful and haunting, right until the last reel, when his "friends" devour Timothy and his companion, Amie Huguenard.
Those who prefer their spirituality fuzzy, ethereal, and idealistic may find "Grizzly Man" off-putting. It suggests that physical hunger and animalistic instinct top all efforts to reason with a desperate bear. Biology becomes destiny, despite Timothy's boyish efforts to anthropomorphize savage beasts. Treadwell's naivete falls prey to chaotic and destructive forces.
Yet, "Grizzly Man" never descends into despair. Man versus nature becomes an opportunity for dueling worldviews, courtesy of director Werner Herzog. In an era of invasive, tell-all videos, Herzog demonstrates remarkable restraint. Some things are better left unseen. Ace editor Joe Bini combs through 100 hours of footage to cull the most telling moments. Treadwell could easily have been reduced to a foppish eco-warrior. Hubris and madness intermingle. He rails against God, begging for rain to feed the animals. Miraculously, "Grizzly Man" manages to dignify his spiritual longing while exploding the myth of idyllic nature. It reminds us why civilization must be cultivated. Treadwell fled society in search of something sweet and pure. Timothy (and the viewers) find all-too-fleeting glimpses of the elusive peace he seeks.
A trailer for Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" compelled me to see it. Its brief summation of the life of a man, Timothy Treadwell, who chose to live alone amongst some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, captivated me. And when I discovered his death was a direct result of his unbounded obsession with those terrible grizzly bears, I couldn't recall the last time I had been so intrigued by a documentary. Trailers can be surprisingly effective.