Film focuses on Charlie Russell, a rare human who finds a way to get along with bears
Starting tomorrow, the three-day phenomenon known as The Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival comes to Nevada City. One of its films, "The Edge of Eden," is wild, but it is also lit by the gentle confidence and dedication of a guy named Charlie Russell. It is very scenic, set in captivating wilderness in far eastern Russia. Charlie Russell lived there for 10 years. And it's richly environmental, discussing man's co-existence with - in this case -- grizzly bears.
Intentional or not, what stirs the documentary juices of this film - subtitled "Living with Grizzlies" - is its naive certainty.
"We could live with them," Russell says, "if we don't hurt each other."
Russell asserts that these one-ton animals are not particularly a danger to man - nowhere near the level of myth assigned to the grizzly bear. For the several hundred people injured or killed by grizzlies in the last 100 years, man has killed more than 200,000 of them. Russell suggests that our image of the ferocious bear mostly comes from wounded bears reacting to being shot.
Russell does more than live in the world of grizzlies. He raises orphaned bear cubs. More accurately described, he becomes the surrogate mother to orphaned bear cubs. He nurtures their chances of survival beyond their first couple of years. He feeds and protects them, takes them hiking, oversees their play, teaches them to fish.
This all feels very natural. Not exactly. Clearly, it is very devoted and loving. The cute factor, watching these rollicking young fur balls, is endearing. Against the myth of the horrible grizzly and the reality of poachers who slaughter bears even in official wilderness reserves, Russell offers a respectful and committed alternative.
Even in the scene where Russell makes rare use of pepper spray against a predator bear, it's all about finding a way to get along. Few human beings have the disposition or capability that Charlie Russell has. Nonetheless, as the spread of man confounds nature more and more, a film like "The Edge of Eden" offers, if not a likely direction, at least a heightened sensibility.
Charlie Russell is frequently compared with Timothy Treadwell. As the film "Grizzly Man" shows, Treadwell was killed by bears while living among them. Russell is frequently called upon to comment on Treadwell's life and death. Find Russell's response at http://cloudline.org/treadwell.html.