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Documentary by local filmmaker tackles relationship between man and bears

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Photo by Ben Thompson

The documentary film “Bears of Durango” recently premiered on PBS affiliates across the country and is now available to rent online.

Directed by Idaho Falls native Dusty Hulet, “Bears” documents a Colorado Parks and Wildlife study and follows a team of biologists led by Dr. Heather Johnson as they gather data and try to uncover factors driving an increase in human/bear conflicts in the Durango, Colorado area. Gathering the data involves climbing into bear dens to tranquilize, extract and take measurements of the bears in the study.

The study also included measuring the effect of using bear-resistant trash containers and analyzing the movements of dozens of bears to learn their habits and behaviors.

Hulet said “Bears” sprouted from an idea for a short film he had as a teen.

“When I was a kid in Idaho Falls, my dad took me to volunteer with Fish and Game on a deer study,” he said. “It was my job to hide in the bushes and wait for a helicopter to chase deer into nets. Then I was supposed to run out and tackle the deer and hold it down so a Fish and Game person could come put a radio collar on it and let it go. It was the most insane thing I’d ever seen under adult supervision.”

Hulet thought filming the deer study would make for a good segment in a film, leading him to shoot a deer study in southeast Idaho years later. Through the process of researching for the film, he heard of other similar projects including the study documented in “Bears of Durango.”

“They were crawling into occupied bear dens, going in head-first with just a little tranquilizer on a stick that takes 15 minutes to set in,” he said. “So that sounded equally as insane (as the deer study) and I thought ‘That sounds like an interesting segment in this short film.’”

Much like the process of extracting bears from dens and tagging them, documenting the study was an adventure for Hulet and his crew. The filmmakers had to strike a balance between finding the right camera angles and capturing the footage they needed without getting in the way of the scientists.

“It was pretty fly-on-the-wall, the way this film was shot,” Hulet said. “A lot of the film is just a single camera covering what’s going on, so that’s me running in circles around the biologists trying to keep up. There’s a real dance as far as trying not to slow people down.”

Shooting the film also presented a real physical challenge to the filmmakers.

“It’s very challenging to keep up with ultra-fit biologists who huff their way up to remote bear dens every day,” said Hulet. “It’s one thing to keep up with them, but it’s another thing to effectively film them as they’re working. And it turns out that bears don’t den in convenient locations, so we had some fairly substantial physical exertion in waist-deep snow, bushwhacking through really dense scrub for miles up thousands of feet in elevation with all this camera gear in tow. So physically, it was quite taxing.”

The result of all that work is a film that has been screened at film festivals and, thanks to an agreement with American Public Television, has been premiering on PBS affiliates throughout the country, including Idaho. Hulet said that they are looking for sponsors for future screenings of the film.

“We can attach sponsors to the beginning and end of the film when it plays on PBS,” he said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it a little tough for people. Their marketing budgets were frozen for a bit when we were doing the bulk of our fundraising.”

Companies interested in sponsoring the film are encouraged to contact the film’s team via bearsofdurango@gmail.com.

Where “Bears” goes from here is dependent on fundraising, so if you want to help, you can do so by visiting the “Bears of Durango” website and renting the film. While you’re there, you can also get more information by studying almost a dozen peer-reviewed papers that are linked to the site.

WATCH A TEASER TRAILER IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

BoD poster resized
Courtesy Dusty Hulet

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