For some reason, we are in the midst of a mini-sasquatch frenzy. It seems like there are at least a half dozen basic cable shows devoted to finding, cataloguing, and trapping the legendary bigfoot monster; a hairy, humanoid creature said to resemble primitive man. There have been just as many low-budget horror movies devoted to the creature in recent years, including a new film by Bobcat Goldthwait—found-footage flick “Willow Creek” that was just picked up by MPI. It’s into this churning maelstrom that British documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews eagerly drops himself in, and “Shooting Bigfoot” examines where Bigfoot really lives: in the swampy crossroads of faith, opportunism and willful, goofy ignorance.
Matthews begins the movie by claiming to have been enraptured by the Bigfoot mythology as a child and shocked that, even as the supposedly real footage of the creature was revealed to be a series of elaborate hoaxes, that the “cult of Bigfoot is still very much alive.” Wondering what drives people who are openly flying in the face of scientific fact, Matthews travels to America and embeds himself with four amateur Bigfoot hunters, each with their own unique angle on tracking the mythical monster.
In Ohio, we meet Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton, a pair of backwoods Bigfoot hunters who claim that they have regular encounters with hairy beasts (Dallas, who appears to be missing most of his teeth, says that they prefer to be called “Sasquatch” instead of “Bigfoot”). They’re both low rent “Bigfoot researchers” who have spent years taking fuzzy photographs in the woods where they live in rural Ohio. (These photos are wallpapered in Dallas’ crummy “research library” in his home.) They are utterly convinced and lack any kind of self-awareness. Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Texas, a homeless woman places a 911 call to local law enforcement reporting that a “big thing” covered in fur terrorized her camp in the woods and devoured an entire deer carcass right in front of her. Matthews arrives in Texas shortly after Rick Dire, a self-described “Bigfoot master tracker” who has a Chevy truck emblazoned with his own photo. Dire is also notable for being involved in the biggest Bigfoot-related scandal in recent memory.
In 2008 Dire claimed on YouTube that he had the body of a dead Sasquatch in an oversized refrigerator, which we’re pretty sure is based on something they saw in a gangster movie on late night television. Dire and his accomplice, a fellow Georgia hunter, would have remained relatively obscure had it not been for Tom Biscardi, an attention-seeking “documentarian” and Bigfoot expert who held an international press conference, both authenticating the carcass as real and announcing that he would like to make as much money as is humanly possible on this seemingly game-changing discovery.
Of course, that never happened, because a costume company noticed that the photos Dire, Biscardi, and their accomplices claimed was a Bigfoot body looked suspiciously like one of the costumes they sell over the web. Soon enough the hoax was revealed in full: they had bought the costume, filled it with road kill bits and claimed it was real. According to Dire, he was a rube playing a prank who was taken advantage of by Biscardi’s lust for attention and fame. (Biscardi claims that he knows nothing about these claims and was taken in by the boys’ story, just like the rest of the world.)
For a while you think that this could be the crux of the documentary: the very human squabbling over a very inhuman monster. But this idea is only teased out for so long. While interviewing Biscardi at his home in northern California, the documentarian (who has interviewed countless Bigfoot eye witnesses, including our friends Wayne and Dallas) shows Matthews footage from his latest opus: “Anatomy of a Bigfoot Hoax.” Like Dire, Biscardi is desperate to clear his name; apparently in the community, helping to forge a Bigfoot discovery is akin to wearing a big, furry scarlet letter.
Each of the so-called experts, either fed up with Matthews’ smart-alecky British attitude or wanting to prove his line of questioning wrong, invite the filmmaker along on their Bigfoot hunts: Wayne and Dallas in Ohio, Dire in San Antonio, and Biscardi in god-knows-where. Each section of the movie develops its own rhythm and tempos, feeling almost like three separate buddy movies, or maybe road movies (with a bit of a “fish out of water” vibe thrown in for good measure). With Dire, the mood is prickly and antagonistic. When Matthews asks him how one gets qualified to be a “master tracker,” Dire snaps back, “What are your qualifications on being an asshole filmmaker?” In the Texas woods, the two meet a young homeless man, which leads Dire to open up about his own upbringing, and it’s a touching, poignant, insanely human moment in a movie that’s otherwise filled with larger-than-life characters chasing even larger dreams.
Biscardi has the kind of foul-mouthed, amiable attitude of an optimistic East Coast gangster. After interviewing an eye witness whose story seemed to drag on forever, Biscardi snaps, “Ask the guy the time and he builds you a fuckin’ watch.” The “team” Biscardi puts together, including members of his own family, has its own ramshackle charm, like a state-of-the-art platoon that was just unleashed from a psychiatric ward.
And Dallas and Wayne are just … Dallas and Wayne. They amble around the backwoods of Ohio without much purpose but with a lot of drive. It’s like watching “Prince Avalanche” but with more Bigfoot mating calls and “shamanistic” chanting. At some point Dallas recounts an accident he had where they had to graft his skull using sheep bone, something that he says gives him an advantage into the animal world because their DNA mixed. But they’re the most genuine of the bunch; good old boys without much to do but who truly believe that they’re tracking an elusively mythological beast.
“Shooting Bigfoot” is riotously entertaining, from the opening animated title sequence (complete with plucky banjo music) to the final moments which threaten to ruin the entire movie (apparently the huckster allure of phony sightings is too much to resist). Matthews is a funny, intelligent documentarian who has clearly modelled himself on the similarly dry, quick-witted British journalist Jon Ronson, and who paints three separate portraits of everyday people who are desperate to believe. Whether or not that extends into delusion is something that the viewer can make up their minds about. But for us, we were happy to just be along for the ride. [A-]