The Ochoppee Skunk Ape goes Hollywood. Also known as, the Everglades Swamp Ape, the subject of 40 years of folk lore finally steps forward to take a bow in Nate Martin's real-life story of an Everglades mystery.
After recently viewing the DVD: The Ochoppee Skunk Ape, I realized I was more entertained than intrigued. Nate Martin's depiction of Dave Shealy, Skunk Ape researcher, chronicles the adventures of a man on a mission.
As the film begins (with a great sound track), several points of interest are immediately nailed down as fact.
Ochoppee is a Seminole Indian word that literally translates to "big field of the unknown." According Seminole legend, our local Native Americans have told the story of a great beast covered with hair who roams over the swampland taller than any man. This beast they refer to is "the hairy man."
As the film continues, the cinematography introduces Dave Shealy and the official Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. What follows is Shealy's insistence that the Big-Foot type creature is real and that he has spent 40 years in the Big Cypress Swamp researching the allusive creature's existence.
According to Shealy, the Skunk Ape makes routine appearances, leaves tracks and sheds bits of skunk-smelling hair. Ranger offices of the Big Cypress Reserve, whenever contacted about a Florida-Big-Foot sighting apparently refer the persons making the report to the Skunk Ape Hotline: (239) 695-2275. Shealy then directs the Skunk Ape observers to the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. This is necessary, he explains, so a detailed questionnaire can be completed.
Upon arrival, the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters looks a lot like an alligator-farm-tourist-trap complete with petting zoo. Ice cream, tourist trinkets, as well as a tour of the petting zoo for $3 are readily available. Shealy admits that many of his patrons come for ice cream and stories regarding the mythical swampland creature.
Uncut and unscripted, Nate Martin's camera follows Shealy into the swamp looking for Skunk Ape "sign." As the film rolls, Shealy explains the best way to go looking for a Skunk Ape and speculates that they probably live in old alligator dens.
Eyewitness interviews follow and include most of Ochoppee's year-round residents (11 year-round residents total). Everyone in the film, and most in Ochoppee, has a Skunk Ape story. And there are even a few folks from as far away as Alaska that spend the whole winter season just for a chance of glimpsing the hairy beast.
Martin's camera then follows Shealy to Bonita Springs and the broadcast headquarters of 96 K Rock. Local radio celebrity "Stan" interviews the Skunk Ape researcher live on the air and discusses Shealy's ongoing work.
One of the highlights of the film is when Shealy is called by the local Indian reservation to come in and investigate a recent sighting. Excitement builds as the Indians suddenly lend credibility to a Skunk Ape researcher who seems desperate to find some hard facts.
The film crew is disappointed, however, when the camera is forbidden to enter the hunting ground, but Shealy quickly explains. Indians believe that if their image is captured on film they loose a little part of their soul.
With the film crew waiting outside the reservation, Shealy reappears and declares that although the "sign" and tracks were fresh, no real Skunk Ape evidence was found.
What Shealy does produce (and it is shown in Martin's film) is several bits of footage showing a large Gorilla-type creature looking over its shoulder and moving quickly through the saw grass. I will say this bit of film does look as real as any Big-Foot-type footage of the Pacific Northwest.
As the film crew shoots around Shealy's Trail Lakes Campground (a perfect base to begin your own Skunk Ape experience), The Chief Skunk Ape researcher continues his rhetoric by explaining: Florida's version of Big Foot eats alligators, deer and saw grass, but has real culinary hankerings for dried Lima beans (Shealy's favorite Skunk Ape bait.)
As the film draws to a close, Shealy reminds everyone, "Failure to observe the facts is the greatest form of ignorance."
The camera then pans onto a hand made sign: "How can you be sure it isn't' just a couple of rednecks with a rubber-foot stamp, a fur suit and a case of bad hygiene?"
Whatever your personal beliefs on the Yeti (abominable snowman), sasquatch, Big Foot or even Goldy Locks, everyone will get a treat from this local filmmaker and some great get-down-on-the-swamp local color.
For a little Skunk Ape experience right in your own living room, The Ochoppee Skunk Ape can be ordered online at www.myspace.com/rubeejawbotik.
Then, the next time you have visitors from up north, place your tongue in cheek, sit back and have a little Hollywood Skunk Ape fun.