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After receiving both the original book and passes to the film I was pleased
to see the ever lasting effect a year with natives in Peru can have on a
person. It is one thing to be actually in that moment and appreciate what a
life changing event is taking place, but it is another to actually continue
to live with the effects that it can have on you for decades to come.
Perhaps it is a curse to actually become another person with a totally
different identy only to return to a world that could never understand your
actions and motives while in the moment, but I beleve that Tobias
the life-long effect that it would have on him, both positive and negative.
Tobias came across, in the book as well as the film, as a man who was longing for something that he didn't quite know what. And until his return 45 years after leaving the tribe I didn't sense any closure on his part for the "family" that he left behind. The "civilized" world's inability to comprehend his actions while there only added to this sense of an unfinished chapter in the original book. The film alone is a beautiful story about a man coming to terms with himself and his enviroment, but with Tobias' book it is a complete journey into one man's quest to find himself. Read the book first to fully appreciate a stunning film.
It's rare that you see a documentary as well balanced as this movie. The
blend of Tobias's daily life with his adventures in Peru really show both
sides of the man. In truth he is a very simple person, but for whatever
reason his life sends him visiting ancient cultures in South America. He
a man of many contradictions.
While the movie is about Tobias overally, it provides interesting commentary on a number of subjects: loss of culture, aging, homosexuality, even a little commentary on the voyeuristic act of the documentary itself. It's this richness of information that makes the movie so compelling.
Unfortunately the filming style is high-handed and sometimes is disruptive. It breaks the old adage that the best camerawork is the kind that is not noticed. Throughout the movie there are annoying closeups and jerky camera movement that is more distracting than useful.
Overall, I highly recommend this movie. I'd give it a 9 out of 10. The film style is annoying but the story is first rate. You won't be disappointed.
I read Schneebaum's book (same title as this film) when it was first published and was deeply moved by his ability to see through the many ways of "otherness" (his own and the people of the Amazon with whom he lived and loved) to a way of living a decent life. His subsequent books were not as powerful, but showed his continuing quest. His description of his sexual relations with the men of the tribe was way ahead of its time in the early 60's, but his honesty and openness about it were welcome. This movie beautifully conveys both the quirkiness and generosity of the man, but also provides a glimpse into the inevitable destruction of innocence (which is not a morally positive term, in this case) that occurs when "civilized" men intrude on traditional societies. Even so, Schneebaum himself has moved into a kind of higher innocence that suggests the possibility of saving humanity from its own destructiveness.
As so many that come across this film, I was intrigued with the
subtitle "A Modern Cannibal Tale." Unlike a lot of those who write
their reviews angered that cannibalism is not the primary focus of the
documentary, I was still enthralled. "Keep the River On Your Right" is
not unlike the inspirational journeys of "The Human Experience" or even
"Into the Wild." That the doc follows the man who lived these
experiences decades later as he revisits the primitive locales only
further underlines the profound impacts his travels had on his life and
makes the contrast even more stark.
If you're a teenager expecting a snuff film, then yes, you will be disappointed. Even more so if you're inclined to turn your nose up at homosexuality or same-sex relationships. You'll be disappointed and most likely you will write your scathing review on Netflix or IMDb about how you have no interest in watching a movie about an "old gay guy." Those that are open enough to listen to Tobias Schneebaum's recollections and personal discoveries will find themselves pondering whether current society or the primitive savages are more barabaric in existence and practices. Much can be learned about ourselves if we take the opportunity to learn from those different from us. That theory proved true for Schneebaum in his travels. Give the film a chance with a corrected idea of what to expect going in and it will prove true for you as well.
I saw this film at Amsterdam's International Documentary Film Festival and was privileged to meet both the directors and Tobias Schneebaum, all of whom are lively and outspoken New Yorkers. The film's title in Amsterdam was Keep the River on Your Right, making the sensational aspect of cannibalism somewhat less prominent. Equally important was the loving - and gay - relationship Tobias Schneebaum had with members of the groups he studied as an anthropologist. His reunion at nearly 80 years of age and inevitable leave-taking were very moving. I can only highly recommend this film to anyone looking for a moving story that is anything but pedestrian.
One word in the title makes for unfortunate marketing... but once that
hiccup passed, this is a very beautiful and thoughtful film.
The profound story of a strangely unique, yet average, man. Dealing with the dichotomy of civilised vs primitive. The dichotomy between the jungle of New York City and the jungles of Peru and Papua New Guinea. But which is really the 'civilised' one? The dichotomy about time which passes, but at the same time doesn't. The dichotomy of fear and strength. The dichotomy of love and loneliness.
In the end, a film about the very fundamentals of life, as experienced by an intelligent and perceptive man.
I am adding my review here because i did not find my thoughts reflected
in the other posted reviews. First of all, I found Tobias, the film's
subject, to be an unusual and fascinating character, intellectually
curious and articulate, emotionally sensitive and compassionate. In
addition to giving us insight into him as a person, the film takes us
to two very remote cultures in New Guinea and Peru ; we have a rare
opportunity to see and learn about them.The aforementioned were the
positive parts ,for me,of having seen the film.
However, the negatives were many. Foremost among them is the lack of a detailed exposition to Tobias' story.The audience is never given the information of when and WHY and how- Tobias ended up having these experiences in Peru and New Guinea.I have not read the book and doubt I will. But I have the feeling, from another reviewer's comments, that that would be the one way to have my questions answered.
In addition to this lack of explanation/exposition, the other main problem with the film is that it really does not give us much of an understanding of Tobias' life/ activities while living amongst these peoples. This film is mostly about watching Tobias as he travels back to these communities and reflects a bit on the people and his life then and now.It's an outline with little detail,all skeleton and little meat. By the way, cannibalism is a teeny weeny topic in this film; it has very little to do with the story.
With all the film's negatives, I can only guess that the filmmakers were underfunded, inexperienced, disorganized, unable to focus and keep to a goal. The story had such potential; what a shame.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Documenting a documenter. That's one way to describe Keep the River on
Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. This film follows anthropologist
Tobias Schneebaum, who in his late 70s went on a journey back to the
places he spent time as a participant field researcher over 40 years
ago, first to West Papua and then Peru. Tobias is a full-bodied
character: a gay Jewish artist anthropologist who eeks out a living on
a cruise ship teaching gawking tourists about the cultures he has come
to have a deep respect and understanding for. Author of several books
documenting his time with both the Asmat people of West Papua and the
cannibalistic Amazonians in Peru, Tobias has been haunted by what
happened in his time in these places and how intimate his connection
and relationships had become. Yet Tobias' constant wonder and
appreciation for the places he got to know is admirable and a real
pleasure to watch. One can only hope to ever achieve and retain such
Tobias makes a compelling subject for study as the experiences he faced in immersing himself in these two tribal societies has left him fundamentally changed. This film challenges the notions of morality and "naturalness"- e.g. nudity, homosexuality, cannibalism. (Watch for the graphic circumcision scene). When questioned as to why he engaged in some of the local practices that others would morally denounce, his non-judgmental nature asks: "Why Not?" Who is to say the way of other cultures is right or wrong? This little sleeper is a must watch for not only National Geographic types, but also those interested in the art of documentary making. This film shows what can be done shot on video. The editing provides a quiet revelation of Tobias' life that leaves you watching in fascination. At times, he despairs at being pushed by the film crew to make the emotional journey back, especially considering his age and physical frailty. We can be but grateful that Tobias allowed the tables to be turned on himself, perhaps sympathising with the desire to understand humanity and one's place in the world. The filmmakers provide some moments of critical balance, presenting for example one anthropologist who believes that Tobias predetermined his findings (of homosexuality in this case) based on his personal interests. That said, you can't decide when to stop being shocked and when to take this man home for a cuddle. Move over River Queen, this is the best river ride I've taken in a while.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wanted to read comments here to see if anyone else picked up on the
disconnect between the sensational marketing and the actual content of
this fantastic film. There's plenty of praise in the majority of
reviews, but a few in particular complain in a manner that indicates
that they missed the subtext running throughout the documentary. While
there is nothing to be done if the ostensible subject of a book or a
movie irritates the bejeezus out of you, it's downright feeble to mount
a critical attack based on finding someone "unlikeable." I expected to
find some homophobic remarks, but it appears that what annoys the
unhappy reviewers most is the combination of effete mannerisms,
boldness of composure and matter-of-fact forthrightness in the artist
with whom they were tricked into spending an hour or so. That's
probably about what the filmmakers bargained for when they chose "A
Modern Cannibal Tale" as the film's subtitle.
Of all of the deft acts the directors perform with this movie, I'm almost impressed the most with their exclusion of any kvetching on the part of their subject about having been "the guy who dined with cannibals" for most of his life. It surely isn't lost on anyone connected with the film (certainly not Tobias Schneebaum) that he has fashioned a livelihood out of one scandalous moment. He will never live this down, still he gives little impression of living it up. Given that nearly everywhere the man goes he is asked about eating human flesh - an experience that he describes as lasting less than a minute and consisting of one small bite of roasted person - I found his manner shockingly gracious. While waiting to hear him recount this tale, he and the filmmakers unreel a wealth of personal and anthropological perspective and a walk back on his uncanny path.
So really, why not sucker a few thrill seekers along for an inspired and confounding ride? Not into subtext, complexity and angry that there's no footage of the flesh feast? Cannibal Holocaust is a few aisles over.
Schneebaum is a very charismatic man and to me the adventurous young
anthropologist who headed into the jungles of Peru and Papua, New Guinea had
much more huevos than most. And reducing him to the gay, feminine, non
aggressive catagory,as being the only way he could be accepted into the
tribe is just pure horse sh**. It only brings about the pure ignorance of
what most people think 'gay' is...If Schneebaum wanted to prove that to be
left to their natural inklings a tribe would run the gambit of sexual
desires and he participated in the homosexual rite's does not mean that
homosexuality was not there... and the most the other anthropologist's could
come up with was; "he didn't keep a therapeutic distance" from the people he
It was in the Amazon Valley that something happened to Tobias, was it the raid on the other village and the killing of that tribe, or was it the eating of human flesh, had he almost gone over the brink. He was a painter until that experience and after, he never painted again. As far as the cannibal part, and why he did it, who knows as Tobias cannot come up with a logical answer, and as far as judging him for doing it, one must face his own demons in a situation that brought him to the brink. Had he gone to far,did the jungle cast him out?
It is a strange movie, but, although the subject matter is off the scale, it was entertaining. And one must give Tobias a nod for having the fortitude to go back and face his demons, and stare them down. I'm sure most people would not think that a "gay" thing to do. 8/10
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