There’s a sad irony in a documentary about an underwater photographer renowned for capturing striking images of dangerous creatures in their natural environments feeling so contrived. Israeli-born wildlife photog Amos Nachoum has shot orcas, sharks, crocodiles, anacondas and all manner of other fearsome underwater predators, all while swimming alongside them without notable protection, an approach that has allowed him to share images few other organisms live to tell about. But the spry 65-year-old has one big omission in his portfolio: the mighty polar bear.

Given such compelling subject matter, a storyline with an inevitable white-whale parallel and a plethora of Nachoum’ stills to choose from, Picture of His Life’s slim 72 minutes should brim with captivating content. Instead, Israeli filmmakers Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir often pad the film with dull filler, such as extended travel sequences of Amos simply transporting himself to the Arctic locale and engaging in stilted banter with various crew along the way. There’s value in juxtaposing the thrill of capturing the perfect shot of toothsome giants with the drudgery that comes with coordinating such a vast endeavor. But instead, the filmmakers attempt to spruce up the film’s boring bits by having nearly every interviewee or random crew member speculate on what makes finally photographing a polar bear underwater so meaningful to Nachoum. They hype this as his lifelong obsession. But we hear little of this from the taciturn photographer himself.

Instead, we hear from others how the disapproval of Amos’ father, who would’ve preferred his son pursue a more practical career, may affect him. Or perhaps the trauma of his combat experiences as a soldier in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War drives his daredevil tendencies, making him only truly feel alive when in perilous situations. This speculation on what makes Nachoum tick bogs down Picture of His Life into long stretches of telling and not showing, which seems like a grievous mistake for a film about a man whose life goal has involved showing the world breathtaking images of creatures just as they are.

The filmmakers also frontload the film with so much mundane footage of Nachoum and his crew schlepping equipment around from place to place, and peppering in details of his earlier life, that the progression of his decades-long career seems to get short shrift. Edited the way it is, the film doesn’t effectively build to the climactic moment when Nachoum encounters a mother polar bear and her cubs; instead such a moment feels like an inevitability that comes all too easily. There’s little tension or a sense of obstacles overcome. Even a brief story about a close call with a polar bear several years earlier feels wildly untapped. In an age where drones, GoPro and other technology allow us access to previously unimaginable views of the world, and often from safe distances, Nachoum’s art has become endangered. This makes his work perhaps even more important, as he frames his spectacular photos through a uniquely profound lens. If only his documentarians possessed such a keen eye and deft touch.

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