San Francisco resident Kai Wada Roath wasn’t always a believer in Bigfoot. In fact, his fascination with the mythical ape-like creature was sparked by curiosity not with Bigfoot itself, but with those who pulled off Bigfoot hoaxes.
But as Wada Roath interviewed purported Bigfoot witnesses, he said his skepticism gave way to belief.
Wada Roath’s largest investigation was conducted in 2000, when he led an expedition to remote areas of Nepal, collecting local lore related to the Yeti, or “abominable snowman.”
Americans like to imagine Bigfoot as a benign creature, Wada Roath said, but folks in Nepal have a different view of the hypothetical hominids.
“In Nepal, it’s considered very bad if you see a Yeti,” Wada Roath noted. “And if they see you, it’s almost like a death omen.”
This weekend, Bigfoot hunters and enthusiasts will convene for The City’s first-ever Bigfoot conference and film festival, an event organized by Wada Roath. Dubbed “Bigfoot Bonanza,” the three-day event features filmmakers, authors and reality TV personalities fascinated with the purported creatures.
Speakers will include anthropologist Kathy Strain, who claims to have had multiple Bigfoot encounters.
Strain, author of “Giants, Cannibals and Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture,” said her first Bigfoot sighting occurred in 2012, on privately owned land in southeast Oklahoma. She knows the adult and juvenile creatures saw her, she said, because they fled uphill as she approached them.
“They went up that mountainside faster than I’ve ever seen anything move,” Strain said, describing the creatures’ noiseless movements as “almost beautifully graceful.”
Not all speakers at the event feel they must resolve the question of whether Bigfoot exists. Documentarian Seth Breedlove, whose “Small Town Monsters” series will be screened throughout the weekend, said his primary interest lies in those who allegedly witness Bigfoot.
“I’m skeptical, but not a skeptic,” Breedlove said, explaining he travels to rural America not to find proof of Bigfoot’s existence, but to document the folklore and eye-witness accounts associated with the phenomenon.
“I’m not trying to sway people to either side of the fence,” Breedlove said. “I’m just super fascinated by the cultural impact of these small town stories.”
Among those stories is an account from an upstate New York police officer in Breedlove’s film, “Beast of Whitehall.”
“He’s out there [in a field] with another law enforcement officer, and this thing comes out of nowhere, and screams in his face,” Breedlove said. “He shines his spotlight in its face and it runs off.”
But Michael Shermer, founding publisher of “Skeptic” magazine, said it is extremely unlikely that such creatures are Bigfoot.
Shermer, who is not participating in the conference, said bears can walk or stand on their hind legs for much longer periods than most people realize, and some Bigfoot sightings might therefore be cases of witnesses misidentifying ursines.
When it comes to the giant footprints sometimes found in rural and wilderness areas, Shermer said that as snow or frozen mud melts, a footprint left behind by a hiker would tend to expand.
Most U.S. wilderness areas have hiking trails and fire breaks, Shermer said, and the proliferation of cellphone cameras and aerial photography drones make it unlikely Bigfoot could exist without there being unambiguous photographic evidence.
“If there were a breeding population of bipedal apes, we would have one by now,” Shermer said. “There would have to be hundreds, or even thousands, for them to survive over the centuries — there can’t be just one or two.”
Cliff Barackman, host of Animal Planet’s reality show, “Finding Bigfoot,” noted Bigfoot witnesses include experienced outdoorsmen and cops. Barackman dismissed the idea that such people would easily mistake an upright bear for an ape-like creature.
Barackman, who speaks at the conference Friday and Sunday, said it’s possible nobody has discovered a Bigfoot carcass because the creatures are at the top of their food chains. And, just as cats seek solitude when they’re sick, a Bigfoot would likely hide when terminally ill.
“Generally speaking, you do not find the bones of apex predators,” Barackman said. “Bears, mountain lions and wolves don’t die from predation — they choose where they die.”
In addition to documentaries, the conference will feature numerous fictional Bigfoot movies, including the rarely seen Shaw Brothers cult film, “Mighty Peking Man” (1977), and Peter Cushing’s “The Abominable Snowman” (1957).
Wada Roath noted pop culture depictions of Bigfoot have always reflected the times, with Bigfoot morphing from slender and short-haired to bulky and long-haired as fashions changed through the decades.
“Whether Bigfoot exists or doesn’t, what people want it to look like is what it becomes in their minds,” Wada Roath said.
Bigfoot Bonanza begins 5:00 P.M. Friday and runs all day Saturday and Sunday at the Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa St.
For tickets and schedule, visit www.bigfootbonanza.com.