Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale

2001, Society  -  94 min Leave a Comment
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If there exists a stereotype of the cannibal as a wild-eyed savage from a remote vastness, surely Tobias Schneebaum does not fit it. Turning 80 this month, he is a frail, soft-spoken gay Manhattanite of scholarly disposition and artistic bent. Once briefly a rabbinical student, he lectures on anthropology and art to Barnard students and to wealthy passengers on their lavish cruises to exotic locales. Though the bulk of his life attests mainly to the contrary, Mr. Schneebaum has lived and loved among native tribes in the jungles of Peru and Indonesian New Guinea.

And years ago, while on a Fulbright grant to paint in Peru, he abandoned his mission, lived among the Amarakaire Indians and accompanied them on what turned out to be a raid on another tribe, which led him to an act of cannibalism. It is this act that serves as the springboard for "Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale," an engaging and colorful but somewhat overbalanced documentary by a brother and sister team, David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro.

The film's focus on Mr. Schneebaum's single experience with cannibalism 45 years ago provides a welcome excuse to return him to the haunts of his relative youth. First he leaves a well-appointed cruise ship to revisit New Guinea, where he is touchingly reunited with his old lover from an Asmat tribe in which men have sexual relationships with partners of both sexes.