Cryptozoologists have been searching the forests of North America for definitive proof of the existence of Bigfoot for years. It turns out they could have saved their time because Dallas Gilbert and Wayne Burton, two amateur Bigfoot hunters from Appalachian Ohio, have not just seen the creature once or twice but have taken hundreds of photos and videos of Bigfoot and his whole family. In fact, it seems like all the two have to do is point a camera into some dense trees and, when they look at the photo later, they’ll find numerous Bigfoots hidden amongst the leaves and branches where untrained eyes like you and I might only see a shadow or absolutely nothing.
Dallas and Wayne maintain a website where they post their photographic evidence (along with helpful arrows and circles showing exactly where the Bigfoot is hiding) and this site has garnered them a level of fame among other Bigfoot hunters. One photograph in particular of a black Bigfoot standing in a swamp, arms akimbo like a Sears sweater model, landed the two on the front page of their local newspaper and attracted the attention of Tom Biscardi, a well-known Bigfoot researcher from California. Biscardi books them an appearance on an internet radio show and encourages Wayne to embellish the story of the photograph and claim the photo was taken recently. The radio host notes the inconsistencies in Wayne’s story and the reputation of both Bigfoot hunters is instantly tarnished and a rift develops between the two friends. Eventually Biscardi and his research team come to southern Ohio to go “bigfooting” with Dallas and Wayne, but the expedition doesn’t quite bring them the fame, money and respect they were hoping for.
“Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie” lives up to its rather lame title by being a documentary not so much about the mythical creature as about a pair of poor, desperate eccentrics searching for him. There are a number of excellent documentaries about the plight of the Appalachian underclass from the Academy Award winning “Harlan County USA” to the eminently quotable “Dancing Outlaw” and “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie” is a worthy successor to those films.
Dallas and Wayne have big dreams, little education and are willing to take wild leaps in logic to make the world more in line to the way they want it to be. They begin the film as walking comical stereotypes in scenes like Wayne showing off his collections of 8-track players, knives and religious art or Dallas claiming to have a sheep bone in his skull or that he is a master of reiki healing, a talent which he demonstrates by running his open palms over a clearly skeptical and bemused Wayne.
As the film progresses we see that beneath the fantasies of fame and money and museums in their honor that they hope Bigfoot hunting will bring them, lies a pair of sad dreamers with no money and serious insecurities who have turned the search for Bigfoot into their own personal reason for existing. When Wayne, the more self-aware of the two, says, “I’m a loser, a complete failure, never amounted to anything and never will”, it’s a crushing pronouncement that will bring a lump to most people’s throats, because you can’t help but wonder how true it is. The bait-and-switch of an initially comic character developing into a tragic one is devastatingly effective and humanizes two men who could easily just be painted as buffoons.
It’s not all heart-wrenching pathos, though, and there is plenty of buffoonery on display, from the ridiculous gibberish the guys use to “call” Bigfoots, which seems to be a cross between NASCAR whoops and an imitation of a Native American language, to the scene where Dallas attends a low-rent Bigfoot conference and speakers describe Bigfoot as some kind of more spiritual and perfect unfallen form of man with telepathic abilities that allows them to levitate just inches off the ground (conveniently not leaving any footprints for intrepid Bigfooters). Tellingly, some of the language of conservative fundamentalist Christianity seems to have crept into this particular brand of Bigfoot hunting, with some of the speakers describing their “ministry” of Bigfoot and how Bigfoot represents the perfect, biblical, spiritual side of man. It’s probably not a stretch to say that many of these people are actually jealous of Bigfoot and wish they could live uncomplicated lives in the forest far away from the modern world that seems to be passing them by.
As enjoyable and touching a film as this is, it’s not without its faults. Most notable is its awkward runtime of 63 minutes. I’ll always prefer a shorter movie that left me wanting more to a movie that overstays its welcome but at just over an hour the movie comes out feeling less like a feature and more like an exceptional episode of something from the Discovery Channel. It takes a great deal of skill and talent to pull a cohesive narrative out of hours of documentary footage and this movie ever so slightly misses the mark. The two subjects of the documentary are fascinating characters and the movie does a great job of letting us get to know them but the would-be climax of the California research team coming to town and subsequently disappointing Dallas and Wayne feels more like a fizzle than a proper ending. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I couldn’t help but think that a few tweaks and a little more footage are all that keeps this good documentary from being great.
The title makes it sound like one of those terrible parody movies, but thankfully “Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie” is a funny, sad documentary about sweetly sincere people looking for something that doesn’t exist and convincing themselves they’ve found it. It’s an engrossing watch, though if you’re looking for Bigfoot action, look elsewhere. “Shriek of the Mutilated” anyone?