“I am a cannibal…No matter into what far corner of my mind I push those words, they flash along the surface of my brain like news along the track that runs around the building at Times Square.”
American artist and anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Peru in 1955. While there, he traveled down the eastern slopes of the Andes into the Peruvian Amazon seeking some of the region’s most primitive peoples. His only guidance for his search was to “keep the river on your right.” Schneebaum was successful in his search and he spent much of the year living with one of these tribes, traveling with the people on both hunting trips and raids on other tribes. At the end of the year, he emerged from the jungle, effectively a modern-day cannibal, for he had actually partaken of human flesh as part of the tribe’s celebrations after a successful raid. In 1969, he wrote a successful account of his exploits entitled “Keep the River on Your Right.” Some 45 years later, Schneebaum was persuaded to return to the jungle in search of the people he had lived with. Sibling filmmakers Laurie and David Shapiro filmed the expedition and the resulting documentary — Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale — was highly acclaimed at film festivals and by critics and filmgoers alike.
This documentary is quite an engrossing experience. Schneebaum is an interesting man who seems at first reluctant to make the return journey to Peru. He has an apparently modest but comfortable life in New York City and freely admits that at almost 80 years of age, he is now uncomfortable anywhere else. Obviously, he was persuaded to undertake the trip back to his past and as he does so, we see a man experiencing intense joy and sadness as he meets people he had never thought to see again. Exciting too is the glimpse of the pleasure of those same people at meeting him. One particular sequence is a delight. Schneebaum has brought copies of photos he took of the tribespeople in 1955. For many of the descendants of those people, it is the first opportunity many have had to see images of their ancestors and the pleasure and interest is a joy to see.
Laurie and David Shapiro manage a compelling blend of visual images along with documentation of Schneebaum’s thoughts about his past and reactions to the sights and sounds he experiences as the expedition manages to find its way to the new location of the tribespeople that Schneebaum had lived with. One senses Schneebaum’s ambivalence about the whole exercise right up until he meets one of the tribesmen who remembers him. From that moment, any doubts about it all drop away and thereafter Schneebaum seems deeply moved by the whole experience. Nothing ever seems contrived about the documentation of the trip and we get a real sense of eavesdropping on events and people for the most part unaware of our presence.
Docurama’s DVD presents the film full frame, consistent with the original aspect ratio. On the whole, this is a pretty crisp looking transfer. There is some graininess and some of the jungle sequences are not quite as clean and noise-free as the New York ones, but overall colour and clarity are good. The sound is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix (not the 5.1 surround mix listed on the case) that is clear and rich whether the scenes are in New York or in the jungle. Supplements include nine deleted scenes, some photos and sketches by Schneebaum taken on the trip, colour illustrations by Schneebaum contained in a book “Jungle Journey” based on his experiences, brief biographies of Schneebaum and the Shapiros, and trailers for several other Docurama DVD releases. Recommended.
An interesting look.