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On "The Devil’s Road"

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On "The Devil’s Road"

[Santa Cruz, Calif., April 5, 2019]—Four Santa Cruz filmmakers set out to bring a historic expedition out of obscurity. The result was a feature-length historical-nature-adventure documentary called The Devil’s Road.

The Devil’s Road is a culmination of research, exploration, filming, and post-production work to revive the pivotal work of two of America’s most prolific naturalists: Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman. While these are not household names, their research laid the foundation of scientific studies in Baja and were viewed as a link between Darwin and present-day scientists. 

Nelson and Goldman’s landmark expedition in 1905-1906 was unprecedented and completed in a time when the Baja Peninsula was considered one of the most remote and challenging areas in all of North America. They documented, cataloged, and obtained specimens of never-before-studied flora and fauna, all while trekking over two thousand miles on horseback.  The pair made a number of significant scientific contributions to Baja’s natural history, and their expedition was the most thorough and complete studies of Baja’s ecosystems. They would later spend their careers heralded as some of the most adept naturalists of their time, with hundreds of plants, animals, and geographical features named in their honor.

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It wasn’t just the early achievements of these two famed naturalists—though undeniably obscure outside of academic circles—that motivated the film crew. “It was only recently that, coincidentally enough, we learned our ‘Uncle Ed’ was the famed naturalist Edward Alphonso Goldman that worked with Edward William Nelson to explore the Baja Peninsula. I have been traveling around Baja with my family since 1990. We had no idea we had much deeper roots there,” explains Todd Bruce, the producer of The Devil’s Road, and the great grandnephew of Edward Goldman. “Baja has captivated us over the years. Nelson and Goldman’s accomplishments, coupled with our familial connection to this unique place, were driving forces behind creating the film.”

The team made a trip to the nation’s capital to pour through documents and glass plate negative photographs in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution. With latex gloves, they sifted through letters between President Theodore Roosevelt and Nelson, read field notes written over a hundred years ago by Goldman, and inspected century-old photo albums and specimens collected by the pair during their expedition. The film crew was also invited by the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to film archived specimens of mammals and birds collected by Nelson and Goldman during their time in Baja.

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The film's director, JT Bruce, and producer then set out on an expedition of their own, spending two months and covering over 5,000 miles of Baja desert and coastline to retrace Nelson and Goldman’s original expedition route on motorcycles. 

The film documents their thrilling quest—by motorcycle, airplane, boat, and horseback—across the Baja Peninsula where, along the way, they observe the vibrant culture and unforgettable people, and endure the challenges of the road. The film includes interviews with biologists and conservationists that provide a reminder of how grueling the original expedition was and why Nelson and Goldman’s work was so fundamental, as well as offer insight into the precarious future of the fragile ecosystems of Baja—and beyond.

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“Much like our predecessor that inspired the film, knowing Baja on a more intimate level makes it incumbent upon us to be stewards of such a unique corner of the world. By sharing it with viewers we hope to help make a case for its conservation,” says Bri Bruce, the film’s associate producer and UC Santa Cruz alumni. “Baja is truly a magical place. There’s really no other way to describe it. I think I speak for anyone that has been fortunate enough to really witness it—stand in its deserts, swim in its oceans, get to know both the animals and the people there—they’ll see it’s worth fighting for.”

“Baja is a biodiversity hotspot,” explains The Devil’s Road Scientific Advisor Greg Meyer. Meyer is an educator at California State University, Monterey Bay, and a professional naturalist who led his first trip to Baja in 1985. He has traveled extensively throughout the peninsula, working for the Oceanic Society, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic Expeditions, and the BBC. “The Baja Peninsula is still one of the great wildernesses on earth and this film project has allowed us to see the changes over time and to highlight why it needs protection today.”

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JT Bruce, the film’s director, expands on the themes of The Devil’s Road:

“Our film is not just a historical documentary or motorcycle road movie. It's not a reprimand on the audience for some perceived failure to protect the environment. It's a chance to gain a wider perspective and view the trajectory that our planet's ecosystems are on, and to help people make their own decisions about how we should approach the future.” 

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The film shows a complex interplay between past and present, and weaves together themes of discovery and change while serving as an environmental call to arms that pays homage to the strange and awe-inspiring Baja California. In an exciting mix of history, nature, and exhilarating adventure, The Devil’s Road is sure to entertain, educate, and inspire. 




 

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Broken Wagon Films at the California Academy of Sciences

Last week, Broken Wagon Films’ The Devil’s Road producer, Todd Bruce, and director, JT Bruce, attended the 2018 Annual Fellows Gathering as guests at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California.

The exclusive event, which took place on Tuesday, October 9th, comprised of an evening of intriguing lectures, awards, and special recognitions. The crew was honored to have been invited among many esteemed scientists.

The Devil’s Road  Producer, Todd Bruce, at the Fellows Gathering.

The Devil’s Road Producer, Todd Bruce, at the Fellows Gathering.


We're Looking for Musicians/Bands!

We are currently seeking musicians or bands for music use in the film. Think 1960s/70s Latin/South American surf/folk/garage rock. Please see our current videos to get an idea of the style we are looking for.

This is a chance for an established or emerging musician or music group to gain exposure, as we plan to present our film to a number of film festivals and screenings across the country and abroad.

Check out these links:

WEBSITE: http://www.brokenwagonfilms.com
YOUTUBE CHANNEL: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0yRlXoSaIve9Odxb4ZcXRQ


Please email brokenwagonfilms (at) gmail (dot) com
to show us your work!

Follow us on Twitter @brokenwagonflmsFacebook,
Instagram @brokenwagonfilms & YouTube!


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A Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

So what does the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California have in common with Nelson and Goldman and our documentary film, The Devil's Road? Aside from the obvious scientific research and the institution's exploration of our natural world, the connection was formed on a fortuitous day in 1905. Nelson noted in his 1921 book Lower California and It's Natural Resources that he “reached Ensenada on July 5th and found the schooner Academy, from San Francisco, in port on it’s way to the Galapagos Islands with a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Sciences.” Nelson had several weeks’ worth of specimens that he and Goldman had collected from northern Baja, and needed to have them shipped to Washington D.C. The crew of the Academy welcomed Nelson aboard, agreeing to stow his cargo, and Nelson enjoyed a fine supper aboard the vessel.

On July 11, 2017, our film crew had the honor of conducting an interview with several of the California Academy of Sciences research specialists. We were met at the back door of the Academy by Katie Jewett of the Press Office. She would accompany us during our tour of the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy. In the basement of the museum we entered the climate controlled room full of specimen collections. Maureen “Moe” Flannery, the Collections Manager has been put in charge of the hundreds of thousands of bird and mammal specimens and introduced us to several specimens that Nelson and Goldman collected over one hundred years ago.

The first specimen was a Mexican cormorant that was collected in 1902 by Nelson and Goldman. The bird was incredibly well preserved. Next, we were shown specimens of seaside sparrows. The particular specimen that Nelson and Goldman procured was collected in 1874 in Washington D.C. and was donated to the Academy many years ago. The last specimen was a Bailey's pocket mouse, collected by Nelson and Goldman in December 1905 from a location just south of La Paz, Baja California Sur.

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Jack Dumbacher, Curator of the Ornithology and Mammalogy Department, rounded off the morning with a well-presented perspective of what naturalists like Nelson and Goldman's fieldwork would have been like. He explained how they would have collected, preserved, and organized their specimens during an expedition. We also learned how valuable these specimens are to science. These thousands of study skins and mounts provide a glimpse into the past, how and where these animals lived, and even what they were feeding on when they were collected. As technology and new research methods change, their value will certainly increase over the next century and beyond.

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

We would like to thank the California Academy of Sciences for their continued support of Nelson and Goldman's work and of our film.

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Expedition Complete: Letter from the Producer

The Broken Wagon Films team would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that our main expedition is complete. All of our team members participated during this two-month filming expedition, as well as a few additional and short duration assistants. I first must say that JT said it best: “The film is in the can!” Meaning, we have the footage needed to put together a stellar documentary, and as the director, he is very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish and where we will be in a year or so after the editing is complete.

The Baja Peninsula threw everything she had at us and we still escaped serious injury and had no significant mechanical issues. We persevered through it all: slept in the snow, got stuck in the sand, blown over by the strong and gusty winds, poked and scratched by just about every plant with thorns, swarmed by thousands of bugs, embraced by the wonderful Baja culture, and even slept with a scorpion.

Here are a few numbers for you to ponder and for your entertainment:

  • 5280 - miles driven on the motorcycles in two months
  • 29 - times the motorcycles were “dumped” or we crashed at low speeds (20 by Todd and only 9 by JT). Two of JT’s crashes were Todd’s fault! And Todd dumped his bike three times while standing still!
  • 7 - cameras used on the expedition
  • 36 - hours of footage from all the cameras
  • 8 - inches, the length of the “World Record” Nelson Trout caught by Eric
  • 530 - pounds in weight of each bike including gear, food, and water
  • 4 - people we met along the expedition that said, “You're the Devil’s Road guys! We've heard of you!”
  • 11,000 - feet, the altitude that Scott flew his plane, without a side door and with JT harnessed in so that JT can get aerial footage of the Sierra San Pedro Martir range of mountains

We look forward to sharing with all of you our stories and experiences. JT has an enormous task ahead of him to sort through and edit all that we have. When we have a working version of the film we will call upon all of you to help critique and finalize the film.

Again I would like to thank all of our sponsors, donors, and crowdfunding backers. We would not have been able to do this expedition without your support and generous contributions--in the form of mission-critical equipment and otherwise. I would also like to thank our assistant expedition contributors; Wayne Bruce, Scott and Laurie Bruce, Eric Bruce, Heidi Lewin, Bri Bruce, Jade Lewin, Gia and Eric Doughty, and Guy VanCleave. Because of all of you, we were able to secure some fantastic footage that will make this film shine.

As always, keep watching our website for updates and new items. And don’t forget to keep sharing the project with others on social media. We are very excited and pleased with what we have thus far.

Thanks again,

Todd Bruce
Producer, The Devil’s Road

 

 

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Days 58, 59 & 60 (Return Home)

Return Home

It took us two and a half days to get from the border to our home in Santa Cruz. A stop in Ojai at my dad's house for the night was the perfect halfway point. We battled more gusty, strong, and always changing winds the entire way home. Our last day in the saddle was a total of 315 miles and that brought an end to an amazing two-month filming expedition through the heart of the Baja Peninsula.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 56

April 23 (To Ensenada)

Wind! It seems that nearly the entire trip north we have been met with a headwind, wind from the side, and then gusty winds that tend to push our bikes around. We rode 136 miles today and landed at a hotel in Ensenada. JT's bike has been experiencing some issues with the chain and rear sprocket. The chain keeps loosening and would skip as he accelerated. We have had to tighten the chain several times, but can't figure out why it loosens after a day's drive. We will try to get it to a repair shop in San Diego tomorrow.

Bike problems outside Catavina

Bike problems outside Catavina

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 55

April 22 ( Sierra San Pedro Martir)

Two coyote pups ran through our camp this morning! I was sitting next to the fire waiting for the water to boil for my coffee. I didn't even have time to get the camera before the pups disappeared into the rocks. JT was still asleep and again I felt that we missed an opportunity to get some wildlife on camera.

We met a group of women at the ranger station while on the way down to the lookout. They had just been there and took pictures of four condors. Our excitement rose as we made the 10-kilometer drive and secretly hoped they would still be there.

We were once again met with empty skies and no condors in sight. We were left holding the cameras, scanning the horizon, and sweating profusely under the Baja sun.

The road system through the park is very limited and most of the park can only be accessed by foot. Both JT and I were not up for a long hike carrying the camera equipment with "hopes" of seeing a condor, so we settled for a leisurely drive.

The Sierra San Pedro Martir is an amazing place and is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The breeze softly blows through the trees and immediately reminds me of the Sierra Nevada.

JT and I had a long talk while sitting around a roaring campfire later. Our attention was on how we can tell the story of the California condor without any footage of a wild bird. JT has been called "the magic man" by several of his clients for his ability to pull off a difficult job. He assured me that he has a few ideas and suggested that I not worry.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 54

April 21 (El Rosario to Sierra San Pedro Martir)

As we wind down our shooting schedule and travel northward, we have realized that there is not a whole lot of excitement, change, or new material for the film. We have been on this road before and our vision now is to have another opportunity to film the condors in the Sierra San Pedro Martir. With so few animals in the wild and such a vast mountain range, we would be lucky to get footage of the largest flying bird in North America.

We arrived at the "lower lookout" point at about 2:30 in the afternoon. The pullout was empty and we sat perched on the outcropping of rocks for over an hour and all we saw were turkey vultures and ravens. It was hot and the breeze blowing up the canyon was even hotter. We were able to find many footprints of condors in the dirt around the garbage can in the pullout. Apparently they tend to congregate there because of the garbage. With our heads hung low we headed up the mountain to the park and our camp for the night.

At the park entrance we were able to meet and talk in more detail with Manuel (Park Ranger) and Felipe (Biologist and Park Ranger) about the condor program and how best to film them. Our plan was set and we felt we had a good chance to film the condor in the wild the following day.