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Docurama presents
Keep The River On Your Right (2000)

"Why would I want to go back to Peru?"
- Tobias Schneebaum

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: October 27, 2002

Stars: Tobias Schneebaum
Director: David Shapiro, Laurie Shapiro

MPAA Rating: R for (brief nudity, language, some thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:33m:39s
Release Date: October 29, 2002
UPC: 767685951934
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

This is the unforgettable story of Tobias Schneebaum, a man who in 1955 journeyed alone into the Amazon jungle and spent almost a year living among a tribe of cannibals. With little more than a pen knife in his pocket, Schneebaum had been given the most general of directions at the start of his journey: Keep the river on your right. When Schneebaum eventually returned to civilization, he wrote a daring book (called Keep The River On Your Right) chronicling his life-changing experiences, which included partaking in cannibalism.

In the early 1990s, documentary filmmaker siblings Laurie and David Shapiro discovered Schneebaum's book, quite by accident, and were moved by the accounts of his journeys to remote New Guinea and the Amazon. Recognizing a potential dynamo of a subject for a documentary, the Shapiros were able to track down Schneebaum, and somehow they convinced the now 78-year-old man to make a return pilgrimage to those distant regions that he had visited so long ago. What happens along the way became a sort of full-circle closure for Schneebaum, as well as something of an awakening.

Don't be mistaken, this is not just a travelogue about jungles and cannibals, though those elements are key. What makes a film like this so engaging is that Schneebaum is far from what you might consider a typical bold jungle explorer to be, and it is his eccentricities and uniqueness of character that make him such a fascinating subject. During the 1950s, he was a young artist who became a controversial anthropologist when he traveled amongst cannibals, and 45 years later he is just as original: a sometimes frail-looking man with an incredibly razor-sharp mind and a decidedly unconventional outlook on life. Schneebaum's homosexuality, which was the source of much more close-minded derision in the 1950s and '60s, is treated here with a well-recieved casualness by the Shapiros.

One of the most remarkable things about Keep The River On Your Right is how the Shapiros were able to actually locate the locals that Schneebaum had lived with 45 years earlier. One of the film's most touching sequences is an unexpected reunion in New Guinea between Schneebaum and a man named Aipit, who had been his companion during part of the subject's original journey. The scenes between the two men, reunited briefly after so much time, is deeply moving and captured with a natural and undeniably raw level of pure emotion by the filmmakers.

Keep The River On Your Right is not merely a documentary about a return visit to New Guinea and the Amazon by Schneebaum. It is more a story that reveals and explores the depth of societal compassion and identity, and how one man attempted to bridge that gap. This is a powerful, yet profoundly simple, piece of filmmaking that is an absolute joy to experience.

The Shapiros are in the process of developing Keep The River On Your Right into a feature film, which would recount Schneebaum's original journeys. Documentaries, even those as marvelous as this one, just don't have the same mainstream drawing power as a traditional feature film does, and if their next project can somehow re-introduce Schneebaum to a larger audience, I would only hope more people would make an effort to then seek out this film.

You don't have to wait until then.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Docurama has issued Keep The River On Your Right with a crisp 1.33:1 fullframe transfer. Aside from a bit of noticeable grain in spots, the majority of the video image is laden with bright, well-rendered colors; the Amazon sequences in particular look incredible. There is no jarring difference in image quality between the interior shots filmed in New York versus some of the remote jungle footage, and that consistency and balance is striking.

Nice-looking stuff.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The back cover states this is a 5.1 mix, though it appears to be in reality only 2.0. This is hardly of significant concern, as the film's on-location audio is still reproduced cleanly and clearly. Considering that a good portion of the onscreen activity was filmed in either remote New Guinea or the Amazon, the sound reproduction is better-than-average documentary quality. Front channels carry the load here, with minimal imaging.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret To Inform, Bob Dylan:Don't Look Back, Paul Taylor:Dancemaker, Sound and Fury, Go Tigers!
9 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Sketches by Tobias Schneebaum
  3. Jungle Journey Book Excerpt
Extras Review: There are 9 deleted scenes included here, none of which are particularly lengthy or pivotal. I did, however, find the brief scene where Schneebaum lovingly shows off a collection of skulls in his apartment to be oddly charming. One of them (Landscapes) is presented without sound for some reason. The 9 deleted scenes are:
Microphone Pass (:54s)
Tobias in Textile Shop (01m:15s)
In D'Agostino's (01m:28s)
Skulls in the Apartment (:22s)
Suicidal Tendencies (:55s)
Part of the Primitive World (:44s)
Dogs and Llamas—Nightvision (01m:45s)
Tobias Reads (:30s)
Landscapes (01m:22s)

A Photo Gallery offers up a set of 10 stills, and Sketches By Tobias Schneebaum consists of 7 black & white drawings of some of the people he met on his remote travels. There is also a Jungle Journey book excerpt, which was the surreal 1959 children's book written by Mary Britton Miller, and illustrated by Schneebaum. The book is based on his experiences, and some of his illustrations are featured in the film, as well.

Rounding out the extras are bios on Schneebaum and the Shapiros, as well as a complete listing of the Docurama catalog, including five trailers (Regret To Inform, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Sound and Fury and Go Tigers!). The disc is cut into 12 chapters.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

This is an incredibly unique and surprising film, and one that is much more than a simple travelogue; it is a spiritual, moving experience that is as equally surreal as it is touching. In short, it is simply wonderful.

Highly recommended.


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