If you thought the woman who climbed into a polar bear cage at the Berlin Zoo in 2009 was crazy, just wait until you see the full story of Timothy Treadwell, the naturist and grizzly/brown bear enthusiast who camped in the Alaskan wilderness for 13 seasons to be closer to the bears.
That is, until he and his girlfriend were savagely mauled and eaten by one of the creatures he sought to protect.
Famed director Warner Herzog used film footage Treadwell captured during his adventures, along with interviews of Treadwell's family and friends, as the basis for his 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, which will screen at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 17, at Phoenix Art Museum.
Local artist Sue Chenoweth will give an introduction to the film and answer questions about Treadwell's influence on her work.
More from Chenoweth after the jump.
After catching a piece of the documentary on television shortly after it came out, Chenoweth developed an obsession of her own. She tracked down as much information on the mauling as she could, including a ranger's map that showed where Treadwell's remains had been found. She read books on the incident and tried to find the audio recording captured by Treadwell's video camera. These clues to the tragedy became the inspiration for her Predator and Prey series, which showed at Bragg's Pie Factory in 2009.
Chenoweth's abstract style softened the blow of what could've been horrific and gory visuals based on true events. She says that there's a scene in the film in which a coroner goes over what must have happened based on what the remains tell him, and what he says is almost as stomach-lurching as graphic crime scene photos.
Seems the girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, could've gotten away at any time but instead chose to stay with her mate.
Even knowing that, "I tried to paint the remnants of the body without judging it," the artist explains. "After researching the events that took place, I started looking at it as not a good or bad thing, but just as something that happened."
With the massive amounts of research she did on bears, Chenoweth says that she'd know exactly what to do if she were to encounter one of the formidable beasts in the wild. "If it's a black bear, fight with all your might. If it's a grizzly, or brown bear, you get into a fetal position and move your elbows up to your face."
Treadwell probably knew the same technique, but when bears are starved during a particularly tough season it could be impossible to protect yourself from an attack.
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So why did Treadwell's story hit Chenoweth so hard? If you saw her 2011 exhibition "Spyhopping" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, you might recall a hand-drawn map that featured tents, blood spots, and a bear paw. All of these images trace back to a childhood incident in which curious bears wandered into her family campsite and literally left their mark on a tent, shredding it with their paws.
"I had no emotion about it. I wasn't afraid. A lot of traumatic events happened in my childhood, so I didn't think my experience had anything to do with my interest in Treadwell," she says. "But it has to, right?"