Grizzly Man (2005) is an interesting hybrid documentary framing the life of Tim Treadwell as well as the grizzly bears he loved and spent so much time around. The hybrid being what I would describe a portrait documentary, that of its presentation of the life, personality and philosophies of a single person, as well as a nature documentary, through its description and context as it revolves around the lives, habitat, and politics of the grizzly bears of Alaska. The main feature of this film is its presentation: it features interviews, narration, and real people the way one would expect from the genre, but roughly half the content of the movie is told using the audio tapes Tim Treadwell himself recorded. It’s in these recordings that he (and by extension the director, Herzog) tells the audience who he was in a way that simply would not be achievable through explanation, interviews, and reenactment, especially since Treadwell made these audio tapes in (near) total isolation, so the audience could see his personality firsthand.
In general, the thing that I dislike most about documentaries is the staging. It’s difficult for me to reconcile constructing events for the sole purpose of recording it with a camera, even if there is validity to the method. In Grizzly Man, there is very little staging, and interestingly enough it was Treadwell himself that did it, without knowing that it would be later produced through a high profile film. He would set up the camera, intending to create a shot of him walking through the landscape to accentuate his solidarity and isolation. To me, this proves that his recordings were all meant to be filtered for his own purposes, to later weave into a narrative that he wanted—the narrative of the life of the grizzly bears in Alaska. Instead, we see the recordings through the lens of presenting Treadwell as a person with a passion, so the staging is given a very different context in this regard.
Grizzly Man seems to be a faithful construction and presentation of Tim Treadwell. It does not glorify his life or work, but neither does it seek to point out his flaws. The audience is given the story of a man who loves animals, hates the politics and policies surrounding them, and perhaps makes some poor decisions regarding how he handles those policies. Tim Treadwell undoubtedly was a selfless man who had the interests of the animals at heart, and while he may not have employed the best methods to implement change, he was certainly influential with his work. This is the Tim Treadwell Grizzly Man presents, and it is in all likelihood the most authentic version of him that we could have gotten. If he had made his own movie with his recordings, it would have presented him in a biased light.
I’ll be honest. In my opinion, this documentary presents the life of a nobody whose contribution to the world was so insignificant it is not even worth notice. That said, the documentary is very well made, and at no point was I frustrated or bored. The movie did a great job analyzing the life and personality of a unique person.