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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 19

Bahia de los Angeles

Jose Mercade was, once again, a host that continues to give and provide. He offered his boat to us for a late morning and early afternoon cruise of the bay. The time between when he opened up the garage door to launch was about 20 minutes. His house sits on the bay and he has his own launch ramp. 

His panga was perfect for our tour and soon we found a small pod of bottlenose dolphins. They played about the bow of our boat for nearly 15 minutes and JT got some great footage of them. They soon tired and fell back to do their thing.

We were on the outside of the first row of islands, just east of Horsehead Island, when we shut down the motor just to soak up the tranquil, windless, and glassy conditions of the water. Suddenly we heard the unmistakable sound of a whale's exhale. We were blessed to experience a single finback whale in a series of feeding dives. After each dive the whale would swim a circle near us with between 10 and 15 surface breaths before diving deep.

In the afternoon, we were lucky to have two great interviews. The first was the great grandson of Dick Dagget Sr. at his RV and fishing camp just north of town. He had invited his mother, Doña Trina Dagget. Dick Dagget was an Englishman that had jumped ship in the 1880s and had made a name for himself in this part of Baja. Nelson and Goldman had negotiated with him in San Quintin to purchase supplies when they arrived at his mine (The King Richard Mine) near Calamajue. When they arrived, the mine was empty and boarded up. Being skilled trackers, they found tracks leading away from the mine and found the party on the beach of a small bay. Their own supplies had run out and a misunderstanding about the timing of the new supply ship caused them to survive on turtle meat, fish, and wild honey for over a month.

Dick Dagget saved the lives of Nelson and Goldman. The younger Dagget was impressed by the story and was happy to connect with us. Doña Trina was a lively and energetic interviewee. She spoke only in Spanish and most of what she said went over our heads. She was missing most of her front teeth so her speach was off a little too. We will have to wait until the translation is complete to really know what she had to say. I can't wait!

We've Embarked on "The Devil's Road"

Dear Contributors;

This morning the film crew set off on their two-month expedition through Baja California. We would like to extend an invitation to follow along with the crew during the trek. Your interest in our project and donation is of great value to us and we want to make sure you have all the information about our progress. The crew will be using a personal GPS locator device from SPOT. We will ping, via satellite, their location on a regular basis and you can follow along as we film.

The Baja desert is not well connected. Cell towers are very limited. The crew will take every opportunity to keep you up to speed with blog posts, photo drops, website updates, and a sharing page with our SPOT pings on a Google Earth map. As our crew arrives in a town with cell coverage, they will have access to communicate. Please remember that there may be several days’ delay for a reply.

Please follow along with our progress on:

Website: www.brokenwagonfilms.com
Share Page URL:
 http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0YbMGi6kc6FtblFInMNMTf16r4S92USyb

If you want to communicate with our riders, you can do so by:

Text only:  831-601-6320
Phone and leave voicemail:  408-206-6144
Or, by email:  brokenwagonfilms@gmail.com

We look forward to connecting with you when we return and as we transition into the post-production phase of our project.

Thank you again;

Todd Bruce
Producer

Talking Baja and Blue Mind with Dr. Wallace 'J' Nichols

Today we had the honor of meeting, speaking with, and interviewing environmentalist, scientist, and author Dr. Wallace 'J' Nichols. We had the opportunity to talk in length about Baja, his work and experiences there and how it pertains to The Devil's Road, his Blue Mind movement, and the ways in which he's working to inspire in others a deeper connection with nature. 

His work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, National Geographic, and Animal Planet and featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Scientific American, and New Scientist. His national best selling book, Blue Mind, gives readers a deeper insight into the science behind why being in, on, under, or near water helps us lead healthier and happier lives, inspiring the Blue Mind movement and the concept of neuroconservation, merging the fields of cognitive science, human emotion, and ocean exploration and conservation. 

Please stay tuned for our full interview to come.

Learn more about Dr. Nichols and his innovative, visionary work here.

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.

Day 9, Preliminary Expedition: May 24, 2016

May 24, 2016 (Day 9)

I woke well before dawn to the sound of a familiar buzz. Mosquitoes! There were thousands of them all swarming around my head and especially into, on, and around my ears. Greg soon followed suit in waking to the sound and JT was, seemingly, sleeping peacefully with his shirt swaddled around his head, just a small hole around his mouth so he could breath. He, too, was miserable.

We packed faster that I thought would be possible. At the launch ramp, the tide was low, but still suitable for an easy launch. Julio joined us for a tour of the islands and the bay. We headed for Isla Santa Margarita, the farthest island from San Carlos. In 1905, Nelson and Goldman landed on the east side where unsuccessful attempts were made to can sea turtle meat for export. We found the frame of a small house on the beach, the only remaining marker of the cannery. According to Julio, there were still ruins of the old canning facility.

Halfway across the bay, the wind picked up and the conditions began to deteriorate. The decision was collectively made to abandon the attempt to visit Isla Santa Margarita for the closer and more interesting Isla Magdalena. We first landed by an old pier, the site of a phosphorus mining operation that had been overtaken by a seasonal shark fishing camp.

Next we moved up the eastern coast of Isla Magdalena to the village of Magdalena. Here the crew was treated to a quick and informative tour of the village and a short history lesson by one of the town’s elders.

The village of Magdalena.

When Nelson and Goldman were here, the orcilla lichen business was in decline. This lichen was gathered, processed, and shipped to Europe for use in the textile business as a dye. It was very expensive and of good quality. The only business being conducted at the time of their visit was the selling of beef to visiting vessels and the shipment of sea turtles to San Francisco. We learned that in the height of the turtle business, they were processing over 100 turtles a day.

We left the village after learning that the fishermen of the island were not fishing today because the weather and water conditions were too rough. So, we ducked into a nearby mangrove lagoon to film.

We ended the day with a three-hour drive to Mulege, a shower, dinner, and bed at the Serinidad Hotel.