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Keep the River on Your Right - A Modern Cannibal Tale

3.9 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"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."--Tobias Schneebaum, Keep the river on your right

In 1955,

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Artist, anthropologist, and author Tobias Schneebaum spent most of a year living with a tribe in the depths of the Peruvian jungle, during which time he tasted human flesh. Forty-five years later, a pair of filmmakers convinced Schneebaum, in his late 70s, to return to the Amazon to discover if any of these tribesmen still exist. Keep the River on Your Right initially seems like it's going to be a highbrow version of a lurid exploitation flick, but instead it becomes both an astonishing portrait of the charming, gracious, and insightful Schneebaum--a Greenwich Village artist who became an explorer of uncharted realms of the world--and an examination of the vast breadth of human cultures; for example, the documentarians cunningly juxtapose a ritual circumcision in New Guinea with a Jewish wedding in New York, making each seem both strange and familiar. An unusual and fascinating documentary. --Bret Fetzer

Special Features

  • Deleted scenes
  • Photo/Sketch Gallery with original artwork by Tobias Schneebaum
  • Original Color Illustrations by Tobias Schneebaum from the children's book Jungle Journey
  • Filmmaker Biographies
  • Tobias Schneebaum Biography

Product Details

  • Actors: Tobias Schneebaum, Norman Mailer, Michael Nelson Rockefeller
  • Directors: David Shapiro, Laurie Gwen Shapiro
  • Writers: David Shapiro, Laurie Shapiro
  • Producers: David Shapiro, Chris Vroom, Laurie Shapiro, Lorna Thomas, Mark Stolaroff
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    R
    Restricted
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: October 29, 2002
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00006CXH4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,236 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Keep the River on Your Right - A Modern Cannibal Tale" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 20, 2004
Format: DVD
In 1955, Manhattan artist Tobias Schneebaum traveled to Peru on a Fulbright scholarship. He visited a remote Dominican mission, where he allowed curiosity about the local tribespeople to lure him into the jungle. He spent seven months in the jungle with the Amarekaire people (now called Harakambut), who were cannibals, and was presumed dead. But he emerged from the jungle no longer interested in an artist's career, deciding to pursue anthropology instead. In 1969, he wrote a book, "Keep the River on Your Right", about his experiences in the Amazon jungle. Schneebaum went on to live among the headhunting Asmat of New Guinea, as well. The extraordinary thing is that these cultures accepted him. This film tells the story of Tobias Schneebaum's unusual adventures in his own words and takes him back to Peru, at the age of 78, to find the tribespeople whom he had not seen in 45 years.

It's difficult to know how to rate this film, because it is a poorly crafted film about an interesting subject. The film's nonsensical organization obstructs most of the narrative. Its camera work leaves something to be desired. "Keep the River on Your Right" starts out in the present, then flashes back to some point in the recent past when Schneebaum visited the Asmat people in New Guinea, with whom he had lived in the 1970s. Then we learn about his life as an artist in New York. Then about his childhood. At the film's halfway point, we still have no idea where his infamous Peruvian adventure, from which the film takes its name, fits in or how Schneebaum came to be such a dogged adventurer. The second half is better. Schneebaum returns to Peru at the filmmakers' urging to recount his experience of 45 years before and to search for any Amarekaire who might remember him.
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Format: DVD
The filmmakers trailed Tobias Schneebaum, an artist turned anthropologist, back to the villages and lands where he worked over 40 years ago. It was fascinating to retrace Schneebaum's steps through Papua New Guinea, as well as the in the jungles of Peru. I was amazed at the courage and strength of a man in his 70s climbing Machu Pichu, and braving the rainforests of New Guinea in order to find old friends.
The talk show footage from the 1960s/1970s was particularly interesting to me. The talk show host was very interested in the aspects of this "primitive" culture, and persisted with prejudiced questions. Mr. Schneebaum spoke for the people he studied, and helped people understand that they are no different.
One qualm I had was the movie's subtitle: A Modern Cannibal's Tale. I felt that it was not a major part of the movie, and that the directors made a big deal out of it. Was it for marketing: Cannibals always sell? I do not think that a few isolated incidences of cannibalism make someone a life-long cannibal. It was silly to even put the word in the title. The movie offers so much more.
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Originally released as "Once I was a Cannibal", this is a documentary about Tobias Scheenbaum, a 78 year old gay man, who traveled to New Guinea and Peru in the fifties and has some weird and wild tales to tell. Mr. Scheenbaum lives in Manhattan, gives lectures about his travels at museums and tourist ships and has written several books about his experiences. Now, filmmakers David and Laurie Shapiro have created this film which has won several awards among independent filmmakers. They travel back to New Guinea and Peru with him and the audience sees that many of the people of these regions remember Mr. Scheenbaum with affection. One of the New Guinea men used to be his lover. Then, they travel back to Peru, where Mr. Scheenbaum recalls going on a hunt with the tribesmen that resulted in murder and cannibalism. And, yes, he did sample a bit of human flesh.
Mr. Scheenbaum is articulate and witty and a good storyteller. He's speaks openly about his homosexuality and there is a lot of introspection about his experience of cannibalism. He's written several books on the subject and we see film clips from excerpts from talk shows he's been on through the years. While I found the movie interesting, I had a big problem with it. It's all about Mr. Scheenbaum. It's not about the people of New Guinea or Peru. I guess I was hoping for an anthropological film. I wanted to know more about the tribe in New Guinea than the fact that Mr. Scheenbaum had male lovers. I wanted to know what the meaning of cannibalism had in the rituals of the people of Peru. I wanted to know about both these tribes' religious customs, marriage rituals, burial practices, etc. In short, I wanted to take my own trip into the rainforest and learn about the way of these people.
Alas, this was not to happen.
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This film was wonderfully crafted and the footage that makes up the documentary story line combined with the talk show interviews create a compelling story ...the idea of right and wrong, pure and impure and the march of "progress" can be felt throughout, and Tobias is a great character and humanitarian to follow from the concrete jungle of NY to the farthest reaches of civilization.
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Tobias, a gay, brilliantly-artistic New Yorker, lived and dined among TWO different cannibal tribes, in South America and New Guinea. He evan went along on murder/rape/pillage/eat the dead raids. An amazing tale. Which makes it even sadder that it is ruined by incompetent filmmaking.
- The organization is a jumbled mess with no clear timeline;
- The editors waste much footage on facial closeups of Tobias looking pensive;
- Much of the dialogue is navel-gazing rather than interesting or informative;
- Almost nothing about the lives of the native tribes;\
- Virtually nothing about the people-eating even though it fascinates most viewers. We don't even know about cooking methods, what parts taste best, or whether spices are used;
- Virtually nothing about the interesting sexual customs. Which included male bisexuality, lack of marriage, promiscuity, and other activities of natural interest.

The filmmakers never asked or answered simple questions like, "What is the real story?" Or what do viewers want to know about? Thus, what could have been one of the great documentaries about an astonishing adventurer, was turned into fluff. Or many would say, dreck.
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