By Marie-Renee Goulet
- Directed by Dani Menkin and Yonatan Niro
- With Amos Nachoum, Adam Ravetch, Howard Rosenstein
- 74 minutes, USA – Documentary, Adventure & Exploration
Banff Mountain Film Festival
Ten years in the making, this film explores a man and his quest. Amos Nachoum who is a world-renowned wildlife photographer, having captured some of the most breathtaking pictures of some of the most dangerous predators in the world.
He has swum with crocodiles and killer whales, with anacondas and with great white sharks. This is the legendary underwater photographer’s story of doing everything he can to swim with a polar bear and capture it face-to-face on film. Having barely escaped with his life on his first attempt, he is determined to give it one last shot before retiring. This is his last chance to get The Picture of His Life.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1954, very little is known about Nachoum, and the documentary attempts to find more about this private man. Through voice-over, his two sisters present the portrait of a man who grew up in a difficult household, often getting beat by his father. He fought in the Yom Kippur’s war in the special forces, a horrible conflict that saw 20,000 young men die over 3 weeks. He was also a war photographer. Shortly after that, Nachoum immigrated to the United States, where he drove a cab in Manhattan. He mostly disappeared until he showed up on American Television in 1983 to talk about his underwater work. Mainly living out of a suitcase his entire life, he is a nomad without a family or home. The most heartbreaking scene in this film was when he visited his father home for his 90th birthday where his father used the occasion to remind his son what he thought of his choice of life and career: “I wanted him to be a carpenter, he became a photographer […] everything he achieved was only for himself. […] He made a fool of himself”. The pain on his adult son’s face is palpable. Incapable of kind words to his son in person, there is a later scene where his father is in the hospital, calling out for his hero, his son.
His father saw swimming with a polar bear a form of suicide. He never entertains that his son’s passion has any value and that he may just succeed. Undeterred and as driven as ever, Nachoum trains and prepare for the trip like a boxer for a fight. He eventually flies to Vancouver, connecting to Churchill, Rakin Inlet, the onto the Chesterfield Inlet. He continues to Baker Lake, finally meeting his friend and colleague, Adam Ravetch. This is not a small enterprise. They meet their pilot, who lands their tiny prop plane on a dime up in the arctic. Nachoum’s love of nature is evident, and his emotions are bubbling on the surface as he arrives.
Joe Kaludjak, an old-time Inuk will help him find his bear. A quick note on polar bears, unlike the black or brown bears, the polar bear does see humans as part of their food chain. Adult males can weigh up to 1500lbs and pull whales out of the water. The documentary also educates us on the Inuit and their disappearing way of life, with the younger generation wanting to live in the city and climate change.
I was wholly engrossed in his quest and hoped for his success. One of the perks of watching at home this time was the ability to pause and look at pictures this man has taken over the last decades, all jaw-dropping and most placed him in mortal danger. He seems to thrive on managing fear.
He does get the shot. Not just one swimming polar bear, but three. A mother and 2 cubs who curiously peer down at him. The movie closes with Nachoum visiting his father’s grave, where Nachoum places the framed picture.
Marie’s appreciation for movies & TV began early in life as it offered escapes, laughter, and often an education. It sparked a love of photography, travel, and a general curiosity for the world and everything in it. Originally from Quebec City, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Trebas Institute in 1998 where John H. Foote was her Film History professor. The winds pushed her into a different professional field and on a few adventures around the world. The passion for film and storytelling in all forms continues. Marie lives in the Canadian Rockies.