Monday, November 14, 2011

A big, hairy court fight erupts over Bigfoot shoot

Artist and filmmaker Jonathan Doyle has found fame through his work, but not in a way he might have imagined.

The Keene, N.H., resident was before the state’s Supreme Court this past week, defending his right to don a Bigfoot costume and cavort around the summit of Mount Monadnock, while filming other hikers’ reactions.

The free-speech fight has put the 31-year-old in the spotlight for his filmmaking, but he has been immersed in painting, writing and other forms of artistic expression all his life.

“Art is a very powerful tool in ... changing people’s perspectives,” Doyle said.

Growing up in New Hampshire, the middle son of a hardworking single mother, Doyle was fascinated by painting and drawing. As a child, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Doyle would say “either a priest or an artist.”

Art won out, and after graduating from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Doyle lived in Florida, where he started an art gallery. He later moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he founded New York Creator and expanded into set design, animation and film. He spent several years in New York, before moving back to Keene.

Doyle is a typical “starving artist,” supplementing his income by digging irrigation systems and building fences.

Doyle’s recent works include a digital three-dimensional collage series. In the collage, “Sometimes you get a rotten lollipop,” Doyle said, “A girl looks really sweet, attractive — the whole package. And then you meet up with her and find out she’s the dragon lady.”

But it is the Bigfoot case that has put Doyle on the map.

In September 2009, Doyle, equipped with a camcorder and a Bigfoot costume from iParty, climbed Mount Monadnock, put on the costume and filmed hikers’ bemused reactions to the beast.

“The purpose of the film shoot was to draw together community in a way that was humorous and experimental,” Doyle said.

When Doyle and five friends returned two weeks later to film again, they were told they needed a $100 special-use permit and ordered off the mountain.

Doyle sued the Granite State, arguing the permit requirement violated his First Amendment rights of free speech. In May, a Superior Court judge sided with the state, which argued the permit requirement for organized events was applied fairly.

Doyle and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union argued their appeal before the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday. The justices have 180 days to issue an opinion.

Barbara Keshen, an NHCLU lawyer who is representing Doyle, said the case “helps us preserve the right of the little guy to express himself artistically.”

While Doyle wants to film again on the mountain, he also wants something larger to happen.

“I want people to recognize the importance of protecting one’s First Amendment rights and the voice of the underdog to be heard,” he said.

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