Is a Canadian film the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short? Nuisance Bear is among the fifteen docs recently shortlisted in the category. The film by Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden has been winning accolades since its premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival where it scored an honourable mention for best Canadian short.
Nuisance Bear recently made history with three Critics Choice Documentary Awards nominations—the most ever for a short—and won the short doc prize. It won top honours at festivals including the Regard: Saguenay Short Film Festival, Planet in Focus, Available Light Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, and Galway Film Fleadh. Moreover, the doc scored an honourable mention info the Pare Lorentz Award at the IDA Awards, and nominations for Best Short Doc at the Canadian Screen Awards, IDA Awards, and Cinema Eye Honors, the latter of which is still pending. More than the accolades, though, the film artfully captures a unique event in the Canadian north and evidence of an environment in a time of dramatic change.
An Unconventional Environmental Film
Nuisance Bear observes the polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba, as well as the throngs of onlookers who come to snap selfies with the bears. The film smartly observes the effects of climate change by witnessing the bears’ frazzled states as changes to their natural habitat forces them closer into human territory where garbage dumps are among the remaining hunting grounds for food.
Nuisance Bear gives audiences an up-close view of the animals thanks to a doozy of the long take that observes one bear’s trek in real time. “There’s a moment in that long clip when one tourist is taking a selfie. The bear crosses behind the car, and then there’s a photographer who turns her back to the bear,” Weisman told POV during a Zoom interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. “That moment is really important because it shows that the image of the bear with the cars and the buildings isn’t valuable. It’s only valuable when they come on the other side of their car and is in the brush.”
Moreover, the filmmakers’ rigged a camera atop their car so they could capture the bears’ treks safely from a distance while documentary the human activity that makes the migration such an event. “It requires three people to operate: there’s Gabby, myself, and Sam [Holling],” Weisman told POV. “I drove the car and Gabby pulled focus and framed. Sam was the camera operator and that’s sort of the roles that we fell into.”
“It gave us the right perspective because the camera was always at eye-level with a bear,” added Osio Vanden. Seeing the migration eye-to-eye with the bear, moreover, flips the gaze back on the humans. The bears become complicated symbols in a landscaping facing an immediate crisis of our own making.
Nuisance Bear is now streaming via the New Yorker.
Read more about the film in our interview with Weisman and Osio Vanden.