About the Film
Following a painful breakup, Sarah Smith (LILY RABE) embarks on a post-fire stream survey for the Forest Service in southern Oregon. A journey down a wild and scenic river leads her to a remote wilderness surrounded by scorched landscapes. Here she first senses being followed by a presence that will not reveal itself. Visitation from the “big man” (ISAAC C. SINGLETON JR.) continues, more overtly, at the remote cabin to which Sarah repairs to write up her fieldwork. A budding romance with a wilderness advocate (JASON BUTLER HARNER) she met on her trip leads to surprising revelations about the government and sasquatch, and conflicting agendas, that force Sarah to take bold steps to protect the privacy of her big friend, as well as her own.
Director Statement (taken from film's original presskit)
When the screenplay for Letters From the Big Man was conceived in early 2005, I had no prior knowledge, other than awareness of a 40-year-old iconic but ambiguous moving image, of the subject of sasquatch. To begin to understand what I was writing required prodigious reading, consultation with a broad range of experts, and, most importantly, my own time in the forest – as much as possible. The latter was, and continues to be, an immensely rewarding outcome of making the film.
Upon surveying 50-odd years of motion pictures devoted to the subject, it was plain to see that authenticity has never been high on filmmakers’ lists of priorities. While there are quite a few excellent and scholarly books on the subject in print, filmmakers seemingly have not consulted them. With a few exceptions, such as the 1957 British Hammer production The Abominable Snowman, written by Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale, and Ronald Olson’s 1977 docudrama Sasquatch, the “glass ceiling” that sasquatch genre films have historically had a hard time breaking is, I believe, directly related to their inauthenticity, and the insistence of filmmakers on depicting sasquatch as monsters. That audiences keep coming back for more is testimony to the deep and mythic hold that the idea of a “big man” has on our collective psyche.
• • •
The Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California is one of the most biologically diverse in North America. Proposed as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the region escaped glaciation during the last ice age and is home to stunning wild rivers, relict species, and evolutionary stories that were elegantly chronicled by David Rains Wallace in his 1984 book The Klamath Knot. Wallace’s exploration of myth and evolution influenced my decision of where to situate this story.
Another set of circumstances that came to bear on the story’s geography resulted from a catastrophic wildfire which, in 2002, burnt half a million acres of the Siskiyous and could not be extinguished by man. The Biscuit Fire, as it came to be known, contributed to our national dialogue on the efficacy of longstanding fire-suppression policies that have resulted in millions of acres of overstocked forests denied their natural burn cycles. Moreover, salvage logging of Federal lands burned during Biscuit (which it was hoped would bring much-needed economic stimulus to the region) bitterly divided the community and spotlighted, at a national level, a growing and unhealthy politicization of the USDA Forest Service. The actions of all sides in this controversy eroded public goodwill.
Against this backdrop I envisioned an ordinary woman having an extraordinary interaction with a species at once taxonomically unverified and possibly closer to ours than any other. As Wallace speculated:
If such creatures exist, there is a certain logic to their existence. Civilization has explored the oceans, the icecaps, the moon, but it has not adequately explored the human consciousness. . . . So what wild animal would be hardest for us to discover? An animal very much like ourselves, perhaps. . . . What if another hominid species had emotionally outgrown Homo sapiens, had not evolved the greed, cruelty, vanity, and other “childishness” that seem to arise with our neotenic nature? What if that animal had come to understand the world well enough that it did not need to construct a civilization, a cultural sieve trough which to strain perception? Such a creature would understand the forests in ways we cannot. . . . There are places in the Klamaths where such a harmony between forest and hominid is imaginable, where the sense of aloneness and strangeness turns into something else.
• • •
Tales of interaction between our people and giants have existed for centuries all over the world. Common characteristics and behavior are described in geographically distant cultures, from China to the Americas, the Himalayas to Indonesia and Russia and the Caucusus. Explorers as esteemed as Percy Fawcett and Edmund Hilary have reported physical evidence and eyewitness encounters with hairy giants, known variously by such names as alma, yeren, yeti, orang-pendek, sasquatch, and yowie.
Within the American academic community there exists a high disregard for the subject of sasquatch, even in the face of a preponderance of physical and circumstantial evidence. Serious study of the subject is regarded as a career-limiting move. A few Ph.D.s bucking that dismissive trend (Krantz, Meldrum, Ketchum, Fahrenbach, Bindernagel, et al.) have contributed valuable insight into the physical leavings of the hominids: their inferred locomotor adaptations, their dermatoglyphics, and the diagnostic DNA sequences of their hair (which consistently match no known samples).
But their physical leavings are few and far between. In the realm of the social sciences even less is known about the presumed giants, and few have attempted to broaden this knowledge base. Among those who have, author Kewaunee Lapseritis (The Sasquatch People) has persisted over the past 30 years in characterizing the sasquatch as people rather than as great apes or relict hominids. He postulates that they are more akin to “primitive” tribes that have evolved a way of being so entirely different than ours that they have remained within our midst a “secret society,” numbering thousands in North America alone. While his views have not been without controversy, increasingly many sasquatch “experiencers,” particularly of the younger generation, have through their own experience come to agree with him.
Having boldly proclaimed her belief in the existence of the giants, ethologist Jane Goodall has stated that her ethnographic research into native cultural traditions is what convinced her. In his 2003 book Raincoast Sasquatch, J. Robert Alley intriguingly details the similarities in folklore among the various tribes of southern Alaska, British Columbia, and northwest Washington. Native informants (when they are willing to discuss the subject at all) tend to be more reliable than even police, because the unwavering presence of a sasquatch-like figure within their social fabric tends to preclude fear-based misinterpretation. A consistent thread among modern native North American cultures is the appearance of sasquatch at times of imbalance in the community, signifying the need to cleanse or to change.
Academic hostility to the idea of giant hominids has left the playing field open to lay researchers, and, although it is not always easy for a reader to sift through the chaff, it is significant that some of the most valuable findings have come from such individuals. Among both lay and lettered researchers, some are “pro-kill,” meaning that they believe only a dead body will produce irrefutable evidence of the giants’ existence, while others advocate a more humane approach to studying them. Still others regard themselves simply as privileged to interact with sasquatch and have no agenda other than understanding them through an empathic heart opening. The film promotes the latter position wholeheartedly, one that is embodied in the sasquatch message that was read at the world premiere of the film at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Regardless of the perspective from which one views sasquatch, to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, social, and physiological peculiarities of these elusive beings, it would seem to require a willingness to question deeply held assumptions about intelligence, communication, and evolution.
While the mainstream media has largely refused to devote attention to the subject matter outside the realm of sensationalism, the growth of the internet and self-publishing has made possible the sharing of information directly among people interacting with and researching sasquatch. Such websites as Bigfootlunchclub.com, like the venerable publication The Track Record before it, provide a forum in which people from many perspectives, even the so-called fringe, can share their insights in an open and non-judgmental context. Still other sites, such as BFRO.net, have compiled exhaustive databases based on eyewitness accounts and field research that are highly valuable to the researcher. (One of the film’s principal consultants, Thom Powell, author of the recent Edges of Science, in 2003 distilled his investigation of hundreds of such reports – especially the ones that escaped initial publication – into a far-reaching record of the giants’ modern presence in North America, a book titled, simply and aptly, The Locals.)
Those people who have purportedly gained the trust of individual sasquatch usually want no publicity. In most cases, they realize that any disclosure of their interaction will bring it to an end, and may result in harm to individuals whom they may have come to regard as family. What the general public often sees, unfortunately, are the least reliable accounts, sometimes put forth by unscrupulous attention-seekers. In her capacity as amanuensis for the big man, Sarah writes in her journal of one well-known media huckster from years past:
We hope that his going so far over the edge will cause a shift in the thinking of others who would otherwise do the same. He is the one on exhibit. We never will be. Your people are understanding this more and more. They are also understanding that a circus is no fun without good performers. He is a performer, yes, but the only ones among your people who would pay to see him are ones of like mind, and it is they, we hope, who will change their minds.
• • •
I have observed that filmgoers who possess even a passing interest in the subject matter of sasquatch will endure a third-rate genre film in the hopes of it containing even a kernel of truth. They hunger for a film that offers more substance than has been available so far. It has been my overriding goal, using a humanistic and unsentimental approach influenced by films as diverse as The Wild Child by Francois Truffaut, The Valley Obscured by Clouds by Barbet Schroeder (both photographed by the great Spanish cameraman Néstor Almendros), and the ethnographic work of Robert Flaherty, to reach the audience by way of my heroine’s emotional journey, while allowing the big man to remain to some degree – as he must – inscrutable, a shadowy and mythic figure.
LILY RABE (Sarah) received a 2011 Tony nomination for her role opposite Al Pacino in the Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice at the Broadhurst Theater, reprising her critically acclaimed Central Park performance as Portia. Among the many other accolades she has received for her performance in the Broadway production is the 2010 Joe A. Callaway Actors’ Equity Award.
In autumn 2011 she appeared in Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar on Broadway, opposite Alan Rickman, at the Golden Theater. Her current television work includes the series “American Horror Story,” an episode of “The Good Wife,” and the CIA-themed TV movie Exit Strategy, in which she stars opposite Ethan Hawke and Tom Sizemore. Soon she can be seen starring in the independent feature Beyond Redemption for director Britta Sjogren.
Rabe made her Broadway debut in 2005 playing Annelle in Steel Magnolias, a role for which she earned a Drama Desk Award nomination, and has starred in several other Broadway shows including The American Plan (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Heartbreak House (Roundabout Theatre Company, Callaway Award, Outer Critics Circle Nomination).
Her other big screen credits include Andrew Jarecki’s true crime drama All Good Things and Michael Melamedoff’s Weakness, with Bobby Cannavale. Her previous film credits include What Just Happened, Aftermath, The Toe Tactic, No Reservations, A Crime, Mona Lisa Smile, and Never Again. Her television credits include “Last of the Ninth,” “Saving Grace,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Medium,” “Law and Order: CI,” “Law Order: SVU” and “Law and Order.”
Daughter of playwright David Rabe and Oscar-nominated actress Jill Clayburgh, Rabe graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Theater.
JASON BUTLER HARNER (Sean) is most frequently recognized for his riveting performance as Gordon Northcott in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film Changeling, opposite Angelina Jolie. He has appeared in such recent independent films as The Extra Man and New Orleans, Mon Amour, in Tom Hooper's acclaimed HBO mini-series “John Adams” (opposite Paul Giamatti), as well as in feature films including Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut The Good Shepherd, Tony Scott's action-packed remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, NEXT (opposite Julianne Moore and Nicholas Cage), Kill The Irishman, and Paul Marcarelli's beautiful film debut The Green (opposite Julia Ormand and Cheyenne Jackson).
His recent television appearances have included the series “The Newsroom,” “Alcatraz,” “Easy to Assemble,” and “Chase.”
Harner made a lauded 2010 London West End debut in Lanford Wilson’s Serenading Louie at the Donmar Warehouse. He was awarded an OBIE in 2005 for his performance in Ivo Von Hove’s controversial production of Hedda Gabler at New York Theatre Workshop and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 2006 for The Paris Letter (Roundabout Theatre). He has premiered roles for Tom Stoppard in The Invention of Love (opposite James Cromwell, at American Conservatory Theatre) and on Broadway as Ivan Turgenev in the record Tony-award winning production of The Coast of Utopia. Other stage productions of note include The Glass Menagerie (opposite Sally Field at the Kennedy Center), The Cherry Orchard (opposite Annette Bening and Alfred Molina at the Mark Taper Forum) and as the Stage Manager in David Cromer's stellar production of Our Town (Barrow Street Theatre). Television appearances have included “The Good Wife,” “CSI,” “Law and Order,” and the pilots of “Fringe” and “Possible Side Effects” (for Showtime and Tim Robbins). He is currently shooting the pilot for JJ Abrams highly anticipated series “Alcatraz.”
ISAAC C. SINGßLETON, JR. (The Big Man) has appeared in such blockbuster films as Planet of the Apes, Anger Management, and Charlie’s Angels. His TV appearances have included “The X Files,” HBO’s “Arliss,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Galaxy Quest,” “The Scorpion King,” and “Charlie's Angels.” A native of Melbourne, Florida, Isaac’s signature deep voice can be heard in such award-winning video games as Street Fighter X Tekken, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Lord of the Rings, The Incredibles, Darksiders, and Rainbow Six.
JIM CODY WILLIAMS (Barney) is a fourth generation Arizonan, born in rural Cochise County. He graduated from the University of Arizona, where he studied theatre and ran varsity track. In and around jobs in regional theatre, Williams worked as a private detective, little league umpire, and projectionist at the world’s largest drive-in. His most notable film work he considers to be Lies and Alibis and Dark Blue. He also has memorable roles in Dodgeball, Pirates of the Caribbean II, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Herbie, Fully Loaded.
FIONA DOURIF (Penny) has film credits that include Little Chenier, Garden Party, and Orin
Moverman’s Academy Award-nominated The Messenger. On television she has guest starred on “Bored to Death,” “Deadwood,” “Law and Order,” and FX’s “Thief.” She will next be seen in a recurring role on the HBO series “True Blood.” A native of Woodstock, New York, Dourif was educated in Dublin, Ireland and later graduated from the William Esper studio in New York City. She appeared off-Broadway in Some Americans Abroad at Second Stage Theater. She is daughter of character actor Brad Dourif and currently resides in Los Angeles.
DON McMANUS (Forest Superintendent) has appeared in dozens of films such as Magnolia, The Shawshank Redemption, Under the Tuscan Sun, National Treasure, Hannibal, Air Force One, and Ocean’s Thirteen. He will next be seen in the independent film Frenemy. His numerous television credits include “Seinfeld,” “24,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Frasier,” “Dexter,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Closer,” “CSI,” “Party of Five,” “Mad About You,” and “Ally McBeal.”
KAREN BLACK (Sean’s Colleague) gave a breakout performance in 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She won a Golden Globe for her role in The Great Gatsby and was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress for John Schlesinger’s Day of the Locust. Her other iconic ‘70s films include Easy Rider, Airport 1975, Family Plot, and Robert Altman’s Nashville, which garnered her a Grammy nomination. In 2010 she won Best Actress at the Female Eye Festival for her role as a dysfunctional mother in Nothing Special, and received raves for her performance as a script guru in The Blue Tooth Virgin. She also appears in Alex Cox’s upcoming Repo Chick. On TV she recently appeared on HBO's “Funny or Die Presents,” and makes routine appearances on “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
CHRISTOPHER MUNCH is a producer-writer-director whose past films include the features Harry and Max (2004, TLA Releasing), about two brothers who are both pop idols; The Sleepy Time Gal (2001), about a dying mother’s search for a daughter put up for adoption at birth, starring Jacqueline Bisset, Martha Plimpton, Nick Stahl and Seymour Cassel; Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996, Artistic License Films), a drama about a young man’s efforts to save a doomed short-line railroad in the 1940s, starring Michael Stipe and Henry Gibson; and The Hours and Times (1992, Good Machine), based on the friendship of Brian Epstein and John Lennon, a lauded work that received jury prizes at Sundance and Berlin. All four have played in competition at Sundance as well as at other major international festivals. Munch has been a Guggenheim Fellow, recipient of the IFP’s Someone to Watch Award, and featured in two Whitney Biennial exhibitions, among other honors.