Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, a feature documentary about Yaddo painter-turned-writer Tobias Schneebaum, opened in theaters across the country beginning in the spring.
Directed by the sibling team of David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, the film explores the controversial life and work of the now 79-year-old Schneebaum, who disappeared into the Peruvian Amazon in 1955 and emerged a year later naked and covered in body paint. The documentary film crew follows him as he returns some 45 years later to the deep interior of Asmat in West Papua, New Guinea, in search of a former lover and to the Amazon, where he is startled by new discoveries. The film received the 2001 Truer Than Fiction Award for new documentary directors at the recent Independent Spirit Awards.
Shot in Irian Jaya (Indonesian New Guinea), New York, and the Peruvian Amazon, Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale takes its name from Schneebaum's memoir about his initial foray into some of the world's most exotic locales. He lived, loved, and fought among tribes where ritualized homosexual relationships and cannibalism were practiced and he talks openly in the film about his own participation in these rites.
Schneebaum, who attributes his anthropological adventures to a need to find himself, first came to Yaddo in 1953 as a painter. He studied painting with Rufino Tamayo at the Brooklyn Museum of Art following his graduation from City College of New York, where he majored in mathematics and art, and lived and painted in Mexico from 1947 to 1950. Schneebaum's paintings were seen in six solo exhibitions in New York City between 1953 and 1970 and he worked as a designer at Tiber Press from 1955-1970.
It took 15 years for Schneebaum to tell the world what happened to him during his 1955 trip into the jungle and how it forever changed his life, but with the publication of his book Keep the River on Your Right in 1969 his life took a dramatic turn. He stopped painting and began to focus on writing his memoirs, based primarily on his travels, and earned a Master's Degree in cultural anthropology. From 1973 to 1983, he was assistant to the curator for exhibitions at The Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats, Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and over the years he has organized several exhibitions of Asmat artifacts in the United States and Germany. In 1990, Schneebaum was the program director for a group of 29 Asmat men and one woman who came to the United States to demonstrate their native carving and dance. He has spent more than 20 years lecturing on the anthropology and art of the people of Melanesia and Indonesia.
In addition to Keep the River on Your Right, Schneebaum has authored six other non-fiction books about the journey to find himself in a distant culture. They are Wild Man (1979), Asmat: Life with the Ancestors (1981), Asmat Images: The Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress (1985), Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea (1989), Embodied Spirits: Ritual Carvings of the Asmat (1990), and Secret Places: My Life in New York & New Guinea (2000). He also was a contributor to People of the River, People of the Tree: Change & Continuity in Sepik & Asmat Art (1989). He worked on many of these books during a series of Yaddo residencies, the most recent in the summer of 2000.
Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale is the winner of several film festival jury awards and has been highly acclaimed by critics. It is scheduled to be released in Australia, Finland, and Germany as well as in the United States. Critic Roger Ebert declared the film a highlight of the Toronto Film Festival. Visit http://www.keeptheriver.com for a complete schedule of where Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale will debut nationally.