‘Grizzly Man’ filmmaker reflects on film, Treadwell
The crowds have shrunk, the celebrities are gone and the traffic has abated to its normal snarl. The Sundance Film Festival is over, a month into the rear view mirror, and Park City has returned from relative festival week chaos to the normal winter bustle.
The Sundance Institute will return to town this week, though, with a much smaller program. This Thursday, the institute will present the latest screening the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Series, showing Werner Herzog’s "Grizzly Man" at the Jim Santy Auditorium in conjunction with the Park City Film Series.
As part of the event, the film’s co-executive producer, Jewel Palovak will come to town to talk about her role in the project and participate in a reading from the book, "Among Grizzlies," which she co-authored with the subject of "Grizzly Man," the late Timothy Treadwell.
The film documents Treadwell’s quest to learn about, live with and preserve grizzly bears.
To tell the story, Herzog uses Treadwell’s own videos, which document his thoughts, his feelings, his actions and his encounters with the bears. An extraordinarily open and emotive person, Treadwell seems to pour himself into his tapes, expressing his personality, desires and contradictions almost continually.
"The film is sort of a photo album of Timothy Treadwell," said Palovak.
Palovak met Treadwell in 1985.
"We lived together for three years and then we split up," she said, "but [we] remained friends."
Palovak eventually helped Treadwell found his nonprofit organization, Grizzly People, in 1998 and co-authored "Among Grizzlies" with him in 1999. As the heir and executor of Treadwell’s estate, she said she fielded a number of offers to make a documentary about the bear-lover after he died in 2003.
Herzog came upon the project when he met executive producer Erik Nelson.
"Werner was like, ‘I will direct this movie,’" said Palovak.
She said that with Herzog directing the project she knew it wouldn’t be warm and fuzzy tribute, but he offered almost instant credibility and considerable filmmaking skill.
"I thought it was the best decision for Grizzly People and Tim’s legacy," said Palovak.
Herzog, she added, respected Treadwell’s vision and his personality, capturing his charisma and his occasional paranoia. But she said she thought it was important to show the full picture of Treadwell.
"I really think I took a chance with Warner," she added, "but I really think it turned out well."
Since its nation-wide release in August, the film has garnered both critical and popular acclaim, with several critics questioning why it failed to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. While noting the critical response to the film, Palovak also talked about the response she has seen from people.
Some people, she said, talk about learning of the issues that face the brown bears on which Treadwell focuses so intently, while others note Treadwell as a figure with which people can identify or at least try to understand.
She acknowledged that some might say he deserved his fate, but for those people, she had a simple response.
"God," she said, "no matter what kind of person someone is, do they really deserve to be eaten alive?"
Treadwell’s rather horrific end, at the claws of an aggressive grizzly bear, affects the way some people view the film, she believes.
"I think that there’s a real primal fear in people of what happened to him," she said. "I think it just puts people off."
The whole picture of Treadwell, from his almost complete openness to his well documented death, defies an easy categorization, Palovak added.
"I think it just makes people uncomfortable," she said, "and they don’t know how to put it into a box."
When asked about Treadwell’s legacy, Palovak noted his life’s story, rising from a drug addict to a self-made and self-taught bear advocate, doing his best to preserve and protect the animals he loved while at the same time rising above his lowly beginnings.
And while his methods and his research were unscientific, Palovak noted that Treadwell left a different kind of impression. While his work might not last as science, she said, it will last. She compared his work to an athlete or an artist, like big wave surfer Mark Foo or NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt both of whom died participating in the sports they loved.
"If it has artistic value, if it has educational value, that’s a good legacy to have," she said.
Since the film’s release, Palovak said she has been traveling the country with the film, giving interviews and promoting both the work and Treadwell’s cause. Currently the executive director of Grizzly People, she has also been organizing Treadwell’s video catalog while working to preserve the bears. She said the group’s efforts have included educational initiatives and a fight against the Yellowstone grizzly’s removal from the Endangered Species List.
"[We’re] just trying to bring people’s awareness to the issues the bears face," said Palovak.
The film tour is another part of that effort, and Palovak said Treadwell would have wanted it to be that way.
"He really did just work to educate people and to live in the wilderness," she said.
But at the same time, she noted his desire for the spotlight, to have a lasting image.
"He used to say, when I die, make that movie," Palovak said. "There was a chance to make one really good movie about Timothy Treadwell," she added, "and I wanted to take that chance."
"Grizzly Man" will screen at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2 in the Jim Santy Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. Palovak will introduce the film and afterward, participate in a discussion. Immediately prior to the film, from 5:30 6:30 p.m., Palovak will be in Dolly’s Bookstore signing copies of "Among Grizzlies." For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org.
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