The Devil’s Road filmmakers had a great time on last night’s Hour Local Radio Show on KSCO! We spoke with DJ and host Neil Pearlberg about all things The Devil’s Road, Nelson and Goldman, and what it took to ride over 5,000 miles through the harsh deserts of Baja California.
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[Santa Cruz, Calif., April 5, 2019]—Four years ago, 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 film will make its world debut at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz on April 27th.
The Devil’s Road is a culmination of over four years’ worth 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.
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.”
In early April of 2016, 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.
On March 1st of 2017, the film's director, JT Bruce, and producer 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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
The filmmakers anticipate a year of showings throughout the U.S. and internationally as they begin their film festival tour, starting at the Overland Expo in May of 2019 in Arizona.
Tickets for the premiere can be purchased at thedevilsroad.brownpapertickets.com.
Tune in to KSCO’s Off the Lip Radio Show (AM 1080, FM 104.1) on April 17th at 7pm where the filmmakers will be featured as guests.
Join the Broken Wagon Films crew for the WORLD PREMIERE of our feature documentary adventure film, The Devil's Road, Saturday, April 27th at 5:30pm at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.
Stay tuned, fans! Great, big, exciting news coming your way from the crew behind The Devil’s Road.
On behalf of the Broken Wagon Films crew, we’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who came to last night’s sneak peek in Oakland! You were specially selected to help us look at the film from an objective, critical perspective as we near the end of production and begin to make our final adjustments. Your input is critical in this final stage. We enjoyed the productive Q&A session, and it was great to hear from everyone what they felt were the film’s strengths, and what could be improved upon as we gear up for the film festival circuit.
We hope you enjoyed the film and the refreshments, and greatly value the feedback and criticism from everyone.
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.
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:
YOUTUBE CHANNEL: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0yRlXoSaIve9Odxb4ZcXRQ
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.
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.
We would like to thank the California Academy of Sciences for their continued support of Nelson and Goldman's work and of our film.
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.
Producer, The Devil’s Road
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.