Timothy Treadwell, a devoted conservationist | Sunday Observer

Timothy Treadwell, a devoted conservationist

18 October, 2020


Pieced together from Timothy Treadwell’s actual video footage, Werner Herzog’s remarkable documentary examines the calling that drove Treadwell to live among a tribe of wild grizzly bears on an Alaskan reserve. A devoted conservationist with a passion for adventure, Timothy believed he had bridged the gap between human and beast. When one of the bears he loved and protected tragically turns on him, the footage he shot serves as a window into our understanding of nature and its grim realities.

Grizzly Man is a 2005 American documentary film by German director Wener Herzog. It chronicles the life and death of grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. The film includes some of Treadwell’s own footage of his interactions with grizzly bears before 2003, and of interviews with people who knew, or were involved with Treadwell, as well as professionals dealing with wild bears.

Treadwell  and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, who were both originally from New York state, lost their  lives to a grizzly bear on October 6, 2003. Treadwell’s footage was found after his death. The bear that  killed Treadwell and Huguenard was later encountered and killed by the group retrieving the partially consumed remains of the victims.

Final film

An audio  recording of the attack was captured by Treadwell’s camera, but has never been  released. The final film was co-produced by Discovery Docs, the Discovery  Channel’s theatrical documentary unit, and Lions Gate Entertainment. The  film’s soundtrack is by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson.

Treadwell spent thirteen summers in Katmia National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Over time, he believed the bears grew to trust him; they allowed him to approach them and he had even touched them. He gained some national notoriety for his work with the bears and founded Grizzly People with his friend Jewel Palovak. They worked to protect bears in national parks by raising awareness.

Park officials repeatedly warned him that his interaction with the bears was unsafe to both him and to the bears. “At best, he’s misguided,” Deb Liggett, superintendent at Katmia and Lake Clark national parks, told the Anchorage Daily News in 2001. “At worst, he’s dangerous. If Timothy models unsafe behaviour, 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 partially eaten by a bear. The events that led to the attack are unknown.


Jewel Palovak, co-founder of Grizzly People and a close friend of Treadwell’s, had to give her approval for the film to be produced, as she controlled his video archives. The filmmakers had to deal with logistical as well as sentimental factors related to Treadwell’s footage of his bear interactions.

 Grizzly People is a “grassroots organization” concerned with the treatment of bears in the United States. After her friend’s death, Palovak was left with control of Grizzly People and Treadwell’s 100 hours of archival footage. As his close friend, former girlfriend, and confidante, she had a large emotional stake in the production. She had known Treadwell since 1985 and felt a deep sense of responsibility to her late friend and his legacy.

Palovak said that Treadwell had often discussed his video archives with her. “Timothy was very dramatic,” she once said. She quoted Treadwell as saying, “’If I die, if something happens to me, make that movie. You make it. You show ‘em.’ I thought that Werner Herzog could definitely do that.”

Film festival

Grizzly Man premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and its limited US theatrical release began on August 12, 2005. It was later released on DVD in the United States on December 26, 2005. The Discovery Channel aired Grizzly Man on television on February 3, 2006; its three-hour presentation of the film included a 30-minute companion special that delved deeper into Treadwell’s relationship with the bears and addressed controversies related to the film.

The DVD release lacks an interview with Treadwell by David Letterman,  which was shown in the original theatrical release. Letterman had joked that Treadwell would be eaten by a bear. The versions televised on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet both retain this scene.

Upon its North American theatrical release, Grizzly Man was acclaimed by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 92 percent “Certified Fresh” score based on 136 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The site’s consensus states: “Whatever opinion you come to have of the obsessive Treadwell, Herzog has again found a fascinating subject.” Metacritic reports an 87 out of 100 rating based on 35 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”.