Grizzly Man is a 2005 documentary film by German director Werner Herzog. It chronicles the life and death of environmentalist and bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. The film consists of Treadwell's own footage of his interactions with grizzly bears before he was killed, and of interviews with people who knew or were involved with Treadwell. The footage he shot was later found, and the final film was co-produced by Discovery Docs, the Discovery Channel's theatrical documentary unit, and Lions Gate Films. The music in the film is by British folk singer Richard Thompson.
Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Over time, he believed he was trusted by the bears, who would allow him to approach them, and sometimes even touch them. Treadwell was repeatedly warned by park officials that his interaction with the bears was unsafe to both him and to the bears. "At best he's misguided," Deb Liggett, superintendent at Katmai and Lake Clark national parks, told the Anchorage Daily News in 2001. "At worst, he's dangerous. If Timothy models unsafe behavior, that ultimately puts bears and other visitors at risk." Treadwell filmed his exploits, and used the films to raise public awareness of the problems faced by bears in North America. In 2003, at the end of his thirteenth visit, he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were attacked, killed and eaten by a bear.
For Grizzly Man, Herzog used sequences extracted from over 100 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during the last five years of his life, and conducted interviews with Treadwell's family and friends, as well as experts and authority figures. Herzog also narrates, and offers his own interpretations of the events. In his narration, he depicts Treadwell as a disturbed man who may have had a deathwish toward the end of his life, but also refuses to condemn him for this.
Grizzly Man premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It was released in theaters on August 12, 2005, and was released on DVD in the United States on December 26, 2005. The Discovery Channel aired Grizzly Man on television on February 3, 2006; its 3-hour presentation of the film included a 30-minute companion special that delved deeper into Treadwell's relationship with the bears and addressed controversies surrounding the film. The DVD release of the film is missing an interview with Treadwell by David Letterman that was shown in the original theatrical release where Letterman jokes that Treadwell will eventually be eaten by a bear; however, the version televised on the Discovery Channel retains this scene.
The film refers to an audio recording of the fatal attack, captured by Treadwell's video camera, but although Herzog is shown listening to it on earphones, it is not played in the film. In fact, Herzog advises the owner of the tape, a friend of Treadwell who held onto the tape but refused to ever listen to it, to destroy it immediately. However the tape was not destroyed.
Upon its North American theatrical release, Grizzly Man received almost universal critical praise. As of September 1, 2006, the film has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 100% rating among the 'Cream of the Crop.'
David Denby of The New Yorker said:
"Narrating in his extraordinary German-accented English, Herzog is fair-minded and properly respectful of Treadwell’s manic self-invention. He even praises Treadwell as a good filmmaker: as Treadwell stands talking in the foreground of the frame, the bears play behind him or scoop up salmon in sparkling water; in other shots, a couple of foxes leap across the grass in the middle of a Treadwell monologue. The footage is full of stunning incidental beauties."
James Berardinelli, who called the film one of the ten best of 2005, said:
"Grizzly Man addresses some esoteric themes. Is there a line between man and nature? Did Treadwell see himself as more bear than man? Were the liberties he took by initiating such close contact with the bears 'disrespectful' (as one Native American puts it) to the natural boundaries between a predator and its potential prey? Certainly, Treadwell found a clarity in the wilderness with his beloved bears that he could not achieve in human society. And he died the way he wanted to (or, as one person states, 'he got what he deserved'); unfortunately, he took someone else with him. Grizzly Man is compelling material from start to finish."
"'I will protect these bears with my last breath', Treadwell says. After he and Amie become the first and only people to be killed by bears in the park, the bear that is guilty is shot dead. His watch, still ticking, is found on his severed arm. I have a certain admiration for his courage, recklessness, idealism, whatever you want to call it, but here is a man who managed to get himself and his girlfriend eaten, and you know what? He deserves Werner Herzog."
- Nominated for the Gotham Award for Best Documentary
- Won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary/ Non-Fiction Film
- Won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Non-Fiction Film
- Won the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary
- Won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival
- Won the Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary
Grizzly Man opened on August 12, 2005 in 29 theatres in North America. It grossed $269,131 USD ($9,280 per screen) in its opening weekend. At its widest point, it played at 105 theatres, and made $3,178,403 USD during its run.
- Grizzly Man at the Internet Movie Database
- Roger Ebert's Review
- Peter Bradshaw's Review
- Deserving Herzog - article comparing Herzog's film to classical tragedy