“The Big Lonely” is a captivating film that tells the story of Michael Nelms, a hunted man beaten by an indifferent bureaucracy and left penniless to live on the streets. Having been a successful auto dealer, real estate broker, and victim of several bad marriages, retreating to a hideout in a remote forest seems like a logical choice. Living under a bridge as a homeless person has no appeal for this man.
As he speaks to the camera, we find out that he has built this little cabin on federal land and he justifies his right to be there by calling it a false mining claim, he confesses. One of their daily tasks is to collect water from a nearby stream. The winter has been hard and he has to crush a foot of ice. At the head is his dog Tic, a mix of wolf and Malamute. Food is a constant need in this desert and obtaining fresh meat is a demanding challenge. In the winter, elk and deer go to lower areas where food is more abundant and the snow is not as deep. Snowpack levels have reached as high as ten feet in recent years.
As such, meat sources are limited to rabbits, coyotes, and rats. Dressing up these animals and cooking them is an important part of the movie. Michael shares his fixations with his dog Tic and their relationship is one of equal partners in his quest to survive.
However, survival issues aren’t what makes this movie unique, it’s the positive attitude of the participants – both Michael and his dog, Tic. They accept difficulties as part of life and work together to overcome them. When a bear attacks Michael and pins him to the ground, it stabs the animal in the windpipe. Describe this ordeal in detail, down to the buzzing sounds when the bear gasps for air. It is a horrendous time in his life and he displays the resulting scars with some trepidation. While the bear meat helped them get through another winter, the attack left him with repeated nightmares. Michael says: “Dreams are what takes your mind. Nightmares are where your mind takes you.”
It’s philosophies like these that give weight to this movie, which this man has learned from his time in the desert and openly shares his thoughts with us. He talks about dying and wanting his body to replenish the earth that fed him for so many years. With supplies running low in the middle of winter, the two travel about eighty miles to resupply. Michael sets up camp on the outskirts of town and finds various jobs to buy supplies to help them get through the next winter.
You may be wondering how you were able to videotape so much footage without an electrical source to recharge your camera’s batteries. While it wasn’t covered in the film, I did notice a couple of solar powered devices mounted on a tree, which probably allowed for battery recharging.
The movie is a stunning self-shot tale as we eavesdrop on a man finding peace and understanding in the Oregon desert. It is the inspiring story of the resilience and durability of one man’s human spirit. A moving film, “The Big Lonely” imparts prophetic wisdom about the sins of the past and hopes for the future.
CREDITS: Cast: Michael Nelms; Director: David Manougian; Producer: Troy Gamble and David Kamens; Executive Producer: David Monougian; Editor – Kerribeth Elliot camera setup and consulting – JP Morgan; Camera and sound: Michael Nelms; Composer and performer of original music: Robin Zimmermann; Sound editor: Reed Harvey; Online Editor – William Schultz; Juicebox production presentation; Unclassified; 82 minutes.