Review: Self-reliance in the Siberian Wilderness |
Chuck Jaffee
Special to Prospector

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Review: Self-reliance in the Siberian Wilderness

The hunter makes his own pair of skis. He uses barely more than an ax and a shaving tool, unless you count fire and water and a makeshift vice.

America has a great history of exalting self-reliance. Shift the preoccupation 6,000 miles to a United-States-sized wilderness in Siberian Russia, where a winter day tends to stay below zero, Fahrenheit. This is a region penetrated only by helicopter and a few months per year of navigable river.

The hunter constructs his own traps, strewn through the forest far enough apart that he also builds outlying huts to make the trapping circuit viable from his main cabin.

Werner Herzog continues to broaden and deepen his documentary niche. He spent many years as a documentarian but made his independent filmmaker name on intense contrivances such as "Aguirre, Wrath of God," "Nosferatu the Vampyre" and "Fitzcarraldo." Always, Herzog had a flare for exotic setting and observing the focused manner of man.

Returned and scaled back to his documentarian soul, his latest film is "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga." Recent Herzog chronicles have taken us to Antarctica to Alaska to a cave inhabited 50,000 years ago.

These Taiga people live so far from modern places, modern conveniences, and modern ways. However, the most fascinating things about this detached world are the modern trappings that are a part of these people's lives: a chain saw where an ax mostly does it all; plastic sheets to keep mice from provisions in a tree; an outboard motor to overcome rapid currents; a snowmobile to expand the range of sable and ermine hunting.

No, the most fascinating things about this record of self-reliance are the interdependencies. An ax is not enough without a wedge. A wilderness man can't make it without good dogs. Long hunting solitude ultimately lives by the lifelines of a home in a village. There are even some tourist dollars and politicians' promises.

See the primitive yet sophisticated mechanism of "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga." It plays at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Nevada Theatre.

Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at