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Grizzly Man: A film by Werner Herzog
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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's March/April 2006 Let's Talk film selection:
Grizzly Man
A film by Werner Herzog
Review by Jennifer Hattam

Grizzly ManWhat it's about
For 13 summers, self-styled bear protector Timothy Treadwell lived among grizzlies in Alaska. Unarmed and generally alone, he talked to the bears, gave them pet names, and filmed their fights and frolics. Werner Herzog's documentary of Treadwell's unusual life--and death--is both an inquiry into the nature of man and beast and a portrait of a complex person who produced intimate footage of the animals he loved too much.

Where to get it
Grizzly Man is available for rent or purchase at movie-rental stores nationwide.

About the filmmaker
Werner Herzog is best known for being part of the German new wave of filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s. Born in Munich in 1942, he grew up in a remote Bavarian village without access to films or television. As an adult, he has directed more than 35 movies, including the acclaimed Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), and the 1999 documentary My Best Fiend (about the eccentric star of those earlier films, the late actor Klaus Kinski). Many of Herzog's movies grapple with the relationship between people and the natural world; of the latter, he once said, "I love nature but against my better judgment."

Discussion questions

  • Were Treadwell's actions selfish or selfless? Did his work help the bears or hurt them (by getting them used to human presence and then, with his death, furthering fears about bears)? Did Treadwell help or hinder the larger conservation movement?
  • Was Treadwell's death inevitable? Did it have meaning? What will his legacy be, if any?
  • In his review of Grizzly Man, New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote that while "Treadwell longs for harmony and doesn't seem to understand that death is at the center of any ecological balance, Herzog sees nothing but death. Looking into the eyes of a bear that comes close to Treadwell's camera, he discerns cruelty and mercilessness rather than hunger. Neither man, it seems, is willing to admit that a bear is a bear is a bear." Which view--Treadwell's, Herzog's, or Denby's--is closer to your own?
  • Treadwell took anthropomorphizing to an extreme, but many of us tend to ascribe human characteristics to animals. Is that tendency useful for the environmental movement or counterproductive?
  • What are the limits of coexistence? Can we live closely with bears and other wild animals, or should we keep our distance?
  • How does human presence in wilderness change it? Do people make it no longer "wild" in some way?
  • Have you had any close encounters with dangerous wildlife? If so, how did it affect you?
  • Links

  • Read activist Louisa Willcox's thoughts about Treadwell's legacy.
  • Learn more about Grizzly People, the organization Treadwell founded.
  • Listen to an NPR interview with Herzog.
  • Read the Austin Chronicle's interview with Herzog.
  • Learn about Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns, who lived with grizzlies in the Russian Far East.
  • Read Outside magazine's coverage of the story, including a final letter from Treadwell and Russell's reflections on his life and death.

    Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep Yellowstone grizzly bears protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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