Searching for Sasquatch in the Emerald Triangle

Director Joshua Rofé details the bizarre and sometimes dangerous process of looking for monsters in the land of cannabis.

Up in the Emerald Triangle, things tend to go bump in the night, and those who venture too far from the beaten path have been known to disappear without a trace. It is often supposed that the people swallowed up by Northern California’s sprawling redwood forests are mostly victims of the region’s illicit drug trade — which revolves around under-the-radar cannabis grows, but also involves meth and opioids.

However, there is at least one unsolved case that some locals attribute to a different kind of beast.

Sasquatch, filmmaker Joshua Rofé’s three-part documentary series, follows investigative journalist David Holthouse as he pieces together the facts behind a possible triple-murder from 1993 rumored to be the work of Bigfoot himself.

Speaking with SF Weekly, Rofé says the idea for the project was born when Sasquatch executive producer Zach Creeger insisted the director check out Sasquatch Chronicles — a podcast in which people call in to discuss their own sightings and encounters. 

Initially skeptical, Rofé ended up binging on eleven episodes of the show.

“I was not hung up on whether I believed in Bigfoot or in the details of each story,” he explains. “That really became an afterthought. What I was taken with was the through line of visceral fear that was there in all of these stories. I thought that was fascinating and I believed that these people were afraid. I felt the fear that I was hearing was authentic.”

At the time, Rofé was still at work on his previous docuseries, Lorena, focused on the story of Lorena Bobbitt. Holthouse was involved as well, which led Rofé to ask his friend and colleague if he knew of any unsolved murders up in the Emerald Triangle that might intertwine with Sasquatch lore.

As it turns out, he did.

Back in the fall of 1993, Holthouse had been staying at an acquaintance’s illegal grow, deep in the wilds of Mendocino County. One evening, visitors brought sensational rumors of men being torn limb from limb by Sasquatch in the nearby forest. It was an incident that Holthouse never forgot. When he shared it with Rofé, it was as if their bags were already packed.

The Emerald Triangle has a reputation for being an insular, foreboding place. Denizens of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties are often loath to discuss the specifics of the local economy with outsiders — especially when those outsiders are holding a microphone and camera. However, according to Rofé, they were far more enthusiastic when asked to share their views on Bigfoot.

“Getting people to talk about Sasquatch was not difficult,” Rofé says. “They were so welcoming and so open and really vulnerable, telling us these things that, presumably, even plenty of people in their own families have no interest in hearing about. That was a really fascinating and, perhaps, even a more deeply human experience than we ever expected.”

Trying to penetrate what Rofé termed “the criminal underworld element” present in the Emerald Triangle proved far more challenging.

“There were a lot of walls, a lot of roadblocks, and a lot of dead ends,” Rofé says. “There was a lot of wondering if there was even any ‘there’ there. There were moments where I wondered if I was going to have to call Hulu and tell them that we can’t do this. Every story just breaks on its own timeline.”

In the case of Sasquatch, the dogged persistence of Holthouse and the cameras following him becomes a vital component of the series.

From a sit-down with Bob Gimlin (who claims to have captured footage of the creature in 1967) to pulse-pounding scenes of Holthouse tracking down some of the Emerald Triangle’s more notorious names, Rofé’s series succeeds at highlighting both the prize and the hunt. 

Ultimately, however, Rofé believes Sasquatch is about something far more relatable than oversized human-apes hiding in the trees or the cut-throat world of criminal activities spread across the Emerald Triangle’s geography.

“In many ways,” he says, “this is a story about trauma: the trauma of individuals, of a certain people, of a land, of communities. We certainly didn’t know that going in, but by the end of it, I do think we came away with a really honest snapshot of this place. And it is dark, disturbing, heartbreaking stuff.”

Zack Ruskin covers cannabis for SF Weekly. Twitter @zackruskin 

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