When Durango Film: An Independent Film Festival kicks off its 13th season next week, it will be our local bears that are front and center.
A special presentation of the documentary “Bears of Durango” will be shown March 2 at Durango Stadium 9. Along with the film’s screening, Heather Johnson, the biologist featured in the film, will present an update on the bear study that is the topic of the film, and director Dusty Hulet will be on hand for a question-and-answer session.
Hulet said the film was also just recently added as an official selection of the International Wildlife Film Festival.
Hulet, a Salt Lake City-based filmmaker, said that what started out as a two-day shoot for part of a short film he had in mind in March 2015 took a different turn.
“Three years later – almost to the week – we’ll be bringing back a feature-length documentary that was all shot in Durango,” he said. “It’s been quite the journey, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of a ton of people down there in Durango who have opened doors to the story as well as made it possible to bring it to life.”
“Bears of Durango” follows a team of scientists led by Johnson as they study the causes of increased bear-human conflicts and the effects of human development on bear populations. The study took place over six years, three of which Hulet documented, joining the scientists as they went into bear dens, filming summer trapping efforts and winter den visits with bear cubs.
“The study was huge – even a feature-length documentary is not enough to cover all the things that they’re learning. And they’re still crunching the numbers,” he said. “I was looking into these different wildlife studies, and they just have such bizarre processes. I mean, these people are crawling head-first into bear dens with a small, telescopic pole and poking them with a tranquilizer that takes 15 minutes to do anything.”
Outside of the logistical challenges of “keeping up with ultra-fit biologists who were sprinting up mountains to dens and hauling all that camera gear around and figuring out how to film in low-light conditions while there are these bears coming out of anesthesia right next to me,” Hulet said the production received help with other hurdles through community support.
Hulet said the film is very much a product of the support of the Durango community – including the home videos of bears Durango residents sent in for inclusion in the film. Hulet said the homegrown footage makes up about 15 percent of the documentary.
He added that the crew is still seeking video footage of bears from Durango residents. If you have footage, he asks that you reach out to the film team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The effort it took to follow the scientists in their study was worth it in the long run, Hulet said, and the result are studies – and a film – that can help move the conversation of how we should develop land forward.
And it’s about time to give scientists their due, he said.
“We have enough pop stars and people like that to look up to, but we don’t have very many petite female biologists at the forefront of our films that are diving head-first into bear dens and dragging bears out that are bigger than them,” Hulet said. “We need to celebrate those people, and we need to give a voice to the things that they’re learning and hopefully garner support for more of that, because as we continue to creep in on these ecosystems, if we don’t figure out how to live with them, they’re not going to be there.”
“Bears of Durango” is not the only must-see film at the festival. See our top five picks here.