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Reviews The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

Jay Delaney

USA, 2008

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 30 May 2008

Source 35mm print

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Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

As I sat in the Somerville Theater, safe from the Monday night drizzle outside and awaiting the penultimate screening of IFFB 2008 – a second showing of Jay Delaney’s buzzed-about documentary Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie for those of us who missed it on Saturday – I tried to pinpoint what would constitute a typical Bigfoot movie. I was having trouble, unable to come up with much aside from a vaguely remembered VHS encounter with Harry and the Hendersons.

As it turns out, the title refers not to Bigfoot sightings of the Hollywood kind, but rather to the sort of footage that used to surface on Unsolved Mysteries or those cheap one-off specials that were once a staple of the Fox network’s primetime programming. You know what I’m talking about: grainy camcorder stuff purporting to have captured the mythical creature on film, a lone furry figure lumbering through trees and shadows. Delaney documents the ups and downs of Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton, two of the guys who go after this stuff and believe in it (or very genuinely want to believe in it), and the result is surprisingly insightful.

Gilbert and Burton live in Portsmouth, Ohio and spend a great deal of time searching not simply for one mythic beast, but families of them (Gilbert repeatedly refers to “bigfoots,” plural). Delaney’s film has the potential to mock the two friends and their quest, a possibility that might make some viewers uncomfortable in the early going, but the director happily resists this temptation.

There is a level of perverse humor to some of the scenes, particularly those of a wildly self-important Bigfoot hunter who snaps petulantly at Gilbert, but the film isn’t about cheap laughs. Rather than exploiting the pair for his own fun, Delaney illuminates the highs and lows of friendship between Gilbert and Burton. The relationship is a vital part of both men’s lives, and it’s distressing to see it start to come unglued in the face of ambition.

Delaney also digs into a very real human desire to believe that there is something wonderful out there just waiting to be discovered. It’s impossible to watch the film without taking note of the very stark contrast between the fantastic creatures that the two men hunt, and claim to routinely see, and the dull reality of their circumstances. Both are financially poor, and Burton is particularly candid about his struggles with his self-worth. The men want to gain money and recognition for their obsessive work, but it’s easy to see that the search itself has immense value for them. Who doesn’t need to believe in the possibility of change for the better, however unlikely?

The film has scenes of Gilbert standing in the woods and pointing out “bigfoots” among the trees, or noting the creatures’ locations in the photographs that he and Burton have taken. In all likelihood, every one of these sightings will strike you as wishful thinking, borne of tricks of the light and an active imagination. But you may also find yourself squinting and making an effort, sharing Gilbert and Burton’s desire to believe, or at least understanding it.

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