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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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"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 20

Bahia de los Angeles to Santa Gertrudis Mission

The day started off as a huge honor for us as a film crew. We had the pleasure of sitting down for breakfast and an interview with author Graham Mackintosh. He was in town and was excited to meet us and generous with his time. Graham is the author of four adventure books about Baja. His first, and most famous, is about his experience as he walked the entire perimeter of the Baja peninsula: Into a Desert Place. Truly an honor to meet him and talk Baja. During our trips over the years we recount his stories, having been to many of the places he visited during his trek. 

Producer Todd and Director JT with Author and Baja Storyteller Graham Mackintosh.

Producer Todd and Director JT with Author and Baja Storyteller Graham Mackintosh.

With a nearly 200-mile day ahead of us, we drove out of town and headed into the hills.

The road to Santa Gertrudis starts with a "straight as an arrow" gravel road from Highway 1 to El Arco (22 miles). It took every bit of concentration that JT and I had to keep the bikes upright and moving. The recent winter rains had created numerous "canyon" type wash-outs that would have swallowed one of us whole without issue.

The Mission Santa Gertrudis is one of the least visited missions in all of Baja. For good reason! It is a long, dusty, washboarded, and rutted drive to get to this mini oasis. Water rises to the surface and flows down the canyon a short distance before disappearing into the sand several hundred yards down the arroyo. Fan palms dominate this spot and at first glance appeared to be paradise as far as a camping spot was concerned. A closer inspection revealed that the local population of cows had taken over.

The bell tower at Santa Gertrudis Mission

The bell tower at Santa Gertrudis Mission

Oasis near Santa Gertrudis Mission

Oasis near Santa Gertrudis Mission

We arrived at "magic hour" as JT likes to put it. For filming purposes, it is the hour leading up to sunset. A quick film shoot about and in the mission was the order and we set off to find a camp spot. We were directed to a spot just downstream and headed out of the mission compound with a tag-a-long, self-imposed, and honorary member of the film crew: a dog named Leroy, a pit-bull terrier with a great disposition that just wanted to hang with us for a while. Leroy had a purpose! His job was to wake up every hour or so and bark at, bother, or just annoy what ever animal or sound was in the arroyo. Thanks, Leroy!

JT with Leroy

JT with Leroy

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 15

Middle of nowhere to Bahia de los Angeles

During our debriefing last night we realized that we were one day ahead of schedule. Not wanting to camp at Yubay for two nights, we decided to head to Bahia de los Angeles, get a hotel, shower (since we have not had one in five days), charge all of our gear and batteries, and regroup.

Tomorrow we will head out to Yubay and meet Greg and Guy to film the tinaja and surrounding areas. 

Sunset over Bahia de los Angeles.

Sunset over Bahia de los Angeles.

Hidden Gems Film Club presents a sneak peek screening of "The Devil's Road: A Baja Documentary"

 

SPECIAL "SNEAK PEEK" RECEPTION with the filmmakers of "The Devil's Road: A Baja Documentary” (In Production)

Saturday, February 25th | Aptos Branch Library

SCHEDULE:

4:30PM - Doors Open
5:00 PM - Screening
6-6:30PM - Q&A Session with the Filmmakers!
6:30-7PM - Reception with Light Refreshments

Please join the Santa Cruz Public Libraries’ Hidden Gems Film Club for a special sneak peek screening of “The Devil’s Road: A Baja Documentary” presented by Broken Wagon Films. Audience members will also have an opportunity to meet the team of documentary filmmakers in the midst of their filmmaking process.

In “The Devil’s Road,” local Santa Cruz filmmakers tell the story of over 100 years of ecological change on the Baja California while retracing the steps of renowned American naturalist Edward Alphonso Goldman — a relative of three out of the four production team members. The diverse geographic features of Baja California — from inhospitable desert, to high mountains, and picturesque coastlines — comprise a distinct ecoregion that is home to a number of endemic species, found only in Baja. Who is Edward Goldman and why is he important? What is the importance of Baja’s biodiversity? Is human activity tarnishing this unique place?

Come and learn about Baja’s natural history and its global significance, and the documentary filmmaking process.

Bring your questions for a special Q&A session with the filmmakers after the screening! Seating is limited. Light refreshments will be served.

Learn more about the project at www.brokenwagonfilms.com or follow the crew on Instagram and “like” us on Facebook.