A new film shot in Washington state is about all things Bigfoot, though through the unique angle of looking at the people who build their identity around searching for the mysterious creature that they believe roams the woods.
It is called Hunting Bigfoot and is the creation of director Taylor Guterson who also shot the entire film himself, without a crew, as he went around the wilderness in the North Bend-Snoqualmie Pass area. Guterson currently lives in Snoqualmie, but he was born in Seattle and grew up on Bainbridge Island.
Guterson said he first started production in the Spring of 2016 and finished right before COVID-19 took hold of the world in March. He is now releasing the film through several independent theatres, including the Varsity Theatre in Seattle.
The film is most centrally about a character named John, played by John Green (not the author of young adult novels), whose performance blurs the line between fiction and reality as he spends his days tracking Bigfoot.
The director said he views it as being similar to Chloé Zhao’s film Nomadland in how it melded real-life conversations with fictional writing to become a story all its own.
“It mixed a lot of fiction with reality. My film does that,” Guterson said. “It’s a true blend of fiction and reality. I don’t really like to really classify it as fiction, but it’s also not fair to classify it as a documentary either. I don’t know if there is a really appropriate term for it.”
One term he doesn’t like to describe his film? Mockumentary.
“I also don’t like mockumentary because I don’t feel like it’s mocking documentaries,” Guterson said. “I don’t feel that’s really what it is at all. I just feel like it is what it is.”
Guterson said he has seen some people think it is a documentary because “it leverages that sort of style” in how he both shot and edited the film.
“There are many sequences in there that are within themselves truly documentary-like because people really talked about their lives and events that have unfolded in real life,” Guterson said. “That’s sort of how I think about it.”
Best as we were able to come to a shared understanding in our conversation, Hunting Bigfoot is a film that uses the techniques and language of documentaries to tell a story that is part fact, part fiction.
“Yeah, absolutely. You nailed it with that,” Guterson said.
This is seen most in how it isn't always clear where John the man ends and John the character begins, creating a portrait that hits close to home.
“John in his real life has really lost connection with much of his family. His wife actually passed away while we were making the film, but he was very open about the fact that they had a sort of estranged relationship,” Guterson said. “He keeps in touch with his children, but he’s not real close with them. He talks about this in the film, in fact.”
John is still playing a character, often with profound brokenness, with the connections to his own life adding a unique layer to the performance. It is also deeply funny as, you know, he is trying to find Bigfoot.
“That part is not really him,” Guterson said. “Though absurdity is a part of life. Look at where we are at right now with so many things happening. It’s not necessarily something to laugh at, but you just stand back sometimes and you’re like ‘wow, things can get so crazy and absurd.’ You do end up laughing a little bit. I just think that’s the way life is.”
For Guterson, it was all about finding that balance between comedy and tragedy.
“Comedy, if we can call it that, I think needs to be in storytelling. In particular when you’re talking about Bigfoot,” Guterson said. “There is certainly a serious angle to this, and then there’s another angle to laugh a little bit at what people are doing.”
“It’s a balance of doing it in the right way, in the right tone.”
A key moment comes when John and Guterson get in an “argument” about the film in progress.
“The entire time we were making the film, everything in my mind was thinking ‘if this was 100 percent real, if this was really happening, how would the filmmaker respond?’” Guterson said. “So the filmmaker behind the camera became a little bit of a character, in this case myself, and I was thinking you would start to get frustrated spending all these hours with this character John. And he might become frustrated with you too!”
It was the naturalness that played out between the two in such scenes that drew Guterson to cast John in the first place. He was looking for an often improvised performance where John’s authenticity would shine through.
“The main reason I asked him to be in this is he’s not a trained actor. He’s really not an actor at all,” Guterson said. “His mannerisms, his moods are very much what you see in the film and in the life that lies beyond the making of the film.”
Guterson said John has gotten to see for himself at screenings how his performance played in front of a crowd.
“[John] has seen the film a number of times,” Guterson said. “He’s very happy with it. I’ve heard nothing but positive things from him about the film. I’ve given him his due and his credit because for the film to work, he really needed to put himself out there in vulnerable situations, both physically and emotionally.”
The film also features interviews with many other subjects, including Robert Michael Pyle, author of the book Where Bigfoot Walks, who David Cross portrayed in a recent movie called The Dark Divide. It is Pyle who provides an expert voice of sorts in the film.
“He actually is a long, long term family friend of ours,” Guterson said. “I just reached out to him at one point and asked if he’d like to participate in this. I was so happy he agreed to it, because it's really his narrative that lends credibility to the film.”
As for whether Guterson has become a believer in Bigfoot, he is keeping his mind open.
“Going into it, I never even gave it a second thought,” Guterson said. “I feel like it’s one of those things where you can’t say it's for certain a yes or a no.”
For him, the story is more about the man behind the journey and what he gives of himself to find a creature that he believes to his very core is out there.
“It’s titled Hunting Bigfoot, but I really feel in a lot of ways it's not about Bigfoot,” Guterson said. “I think it’s really about this man’s life and his story and his character’s obsession with searching for Bigfoot. It’s really that and what’s driving him to do this.”
“You get so consumed with this search that it really takes over your life.”
You can see Hunting Bigfoot at the Historic Admiral Theatre now and the Varsity Theatre starting August 27.