I’ll start with a spoiler: You won’t see Bigfoot in Jay Delaney’s documentary, “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie.” (Actually, that’s a matter of opinion, since there’s photographic evidence presented throughout the film that may or may not be Sasquatch.) But there is something much more elusive that Delaney captures as he tracks two Bigfoot hunters through the Appalachian woods of Portsmouth, Ohio a loving portrait of Dallas and Wayne, two old friends looking for a major accomplishment to be remembered for in a place where there aren’t many opportunities to make a mark. While both men believe the discovery of Bigfoot could also bring fame and fortune, they also enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and when the arrival of a high-profile Bigfoot hunter complicates their research, their friendship is tested. I caught up with Delaney after his film premiered at SXSW to talk about the creature they call Yeti in Australia and the pursuit of the American dream.
Could you talk about how you guys met up with Dallas and Wayne?
A friend of mine was working in a bank in Portsmouth, and he told me the story about this guy who’d come inand ended up talking all about Bigfoot the whole time he was in the bank. He left a business card that said, “Dallas Gilbert: Bigfoot Researcher.” I was instantly curious, so he passed on the card to me and I figured out a way to get in touch with Dallas. We decided we’d meet [Dallas and Wayne] on the Ohio River at a picnic table, and Dallas came with this briefcase with pictures and he showed all kinds of pictures and pointed to Bigfoots in [them], and it really grew out of that. Ever since then, it’s haunted me, the story, and I’ve always wanted to get back to it. The whole time, they really wanted us to go out into the woods with them to see some of the evidence broken tree limbs and whatnot and they have a whole lingo and language for their research. If a tree limb’s broken, that’s called a snap. Sometimes it’s called a snap and a twist, if the Bigfoot twists it. We weren’t going to go out into the woods with them, but then I got back and I looked at the footage and I realized this was going to be really boring if we didn’t. So I called them up and said, “Hey, are you still up for going out and showing us where you do your research?” And he did.
Had you been actively looking for a project when this came about?
In all honesty, no. I’ve been interested in filmmaking since I was a teenager. I studied marketing in college, but I had an honors class on the films of Frederick Wiseman and that whole vÃ©ritÃ© style just really stuck with me. For that class, we were supposed to do a class project on ethnography and doing the story about the Bigfoot researchers was a bit of a stretch, but I really wanted to make a [short] about them, so I thought “let’s just tie these two together.” That was in 2000, 2001. I lived in New York for six months during 2005, worked on some productions and for those years in between, it was always eating at me that I really need to get back to this. In October ’05, I decided to move back to Ohio to start the project.
The guitar score really underlines what’s going on in the film, particularly the montage sequence that explains the history of the two men. How did you come up with that?
All of the music in the film, except for the closing song and one that’s played briefly in the middle, is by Justin Riley and Ben Colburn, two Ohio musicians. They saw a cut of the film and really connected with the story and wanted to be involved. But to talk just a bit more about that montage sequence: I realized that I had spent all this time with Dallas and Wayne and I wanted an audience to be able to understand them. To me, that’s the part of the film in which I probably interjected myself the most. I tried as much as possible to stay out of it, but there were all these little sort of quirks and interesting qualities about them that I wanted people to know, but to let them experience it all in a true vÃ©ritÃ© style would have taken forever. So I was actually looking to some other films. In “AmÃ©lie,” of all films, there’s this interesting part in the beginning that always stuck with me where her parents are introduced and it lists qualities and personality traits about them, so I just thought “let’s try this out” and I thought this really works.
The film is about these two men and their friendship, but it could’ve just as easily turned into some farce about their obsession with Bigfoot. How did you walk that fine line?
That was definitely one of the challenges, because there was a friendship there that I feel with Dallas and Wayne, and I really wanted to respect that and the trust that they placed in me. They realized that it’s funny to some people, but then you see moments like when Dallas wins the award [from his local Bigfoot Society for his contributions to research] and he stands outside and he’s talking about, “I don’t appreciate when people make fun of me, but what else can you say? What else can you do?” Moments like that just really connected with me and I hope connected with an audience. Growing up in that area [myself], I wanted to respect it, and I hope the film is taken in a way that people who are from there will realize there are some problems with our hometown, but there are [also] really good things about it. And I think there’s something really beautiful and inspiring about the fact that [Dallas and Wayne] are still out there still trying for this. They have this hope in Bigfoot, and they have this faith in action, and I think that’s really inspiring.
As the film goes on, you also realize that there’s an enormous world of Bigfoot hunters as well as the politics that go with it. How early in the process did you discover that?
I had no idea going into it and in fact, initially, I thought that he was a rarity in the sense that, you know, how many Bigfoot researchers are there? As far as realizing that there is a pretty big subculture out there of people who track this, and they’re a ton of websites online, that was really fascinating. At one point, I thought it would be interesting to interview some other Bigfoot researchers, but then I realized no, it’s really a story about Dallas and Wayne, and I think the real value in it is [how] deep we can get into these two guys’ lives. But it was fascinating to see that world out there and to see how there are controversies and disagreements within it some people feel this bond with Bigfoot and want to just expose Bigfoot to the world, but in a loving way. Other people want to capture Bigfoot and other people want to kill Bigfoot.
It has to be asked are you a Bigfoot believer now?
I went into it with an open mind and I hope it doesn’t sound at all like a weak position, but for me, I was so focused on [Dallas and Wayne] that I don’t know that my opinion changed. My opinion changed in other ways and I think I probably went into the film with a lot of questions and thought I’d come out with answers and actually came out with different questions and more questions. I still just keep an open mind.
[Photos: Dallas and Wayne; Director Jay Delaney, “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie,” Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie, LLC, 2008]
For more on “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie,” check out the official site here.