Join us right here on Thursday, February 7, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Thanks for tuning in, the screening has now ended. You'll be able to purchase Wild Bill's Run in the spring of 2013 at wildbillsrun.com. Follow Mike Scholtz on Twitter as he finishes a documentary on the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling and another about Vikings.
This is the strange but true story of Wild Bill Cooper. Part Arctic adventure and part crime caper, Wild Bill's Run is an unforgettable ride with a true American folk hero.
In the winter of 1972, Wild Bill Cooper led a ragtag crew of mechanics, ranchers, and photographers on a grueling expedition across the polar ice. During some of the darkest days of the Cold War, their goal was to snowmobile 5,000 miles from Minnesota to Moscow. They didn’t quite make it.
After the expedition returned home, Cooper embarked on a startling new adventure. Accused of leading a massive drug smuggling operation known as “the Marijuana Air Force,” he was named one of America’s 10 Most Wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service. But the wily outdoorsman was never caught. He refused to surrender to the law, just as he’d refused to surrender to the Arctic. Even today, his whereabouts remain a mystery.
FILMMAKER MIKE SCHOLTZ ON THE ORIGINS OF THE FILM
In northern Minnesota, Wild Bill Cooper’s adventures are legendary. With one foot in the Arctic and his other foot in the criminal underworld, he seemed to me like a perfect subject for a documentary. But I wasn’t completely sold on the idea until I learned that more than a dozen hours of never-before-seen 16mm footage from his 1972-73 expedition had survived. The other members of the expedition had kept the footage in their basements, attics, and filing cabinets, waiting for the opportunity to share it with the world.
I loved combing through this old footage. It was like stepping into a time machine. I discovered it was shot on an Arriflex specifically outfitted to perform in Arctic conditions by Arthur Aufderheide, who accompanied Ralph Plaisted on his 1968 expedition to the North Pole, just a few years earlier.
It took me four years to complete the film. Much of that time was spent meeting and getting to know the other members of the expedition and Bill Cooper’s family. We decided to shoot these present-day interviews on a Panasonic HVX100 in standard definition, roughly matching the quality and aspect ratio of the original 16mm footage.
As exciting as I found the Arctic expedition, I found the second act of Bill Cooper’s life to be just as compelling. He was alleged to have smuggled drugs, robbed a bank, and helped kidnap heiress Virginia Piper. The FBI briefly suspected him of being D.B. Cooper. The fact that he was never convicted for any of these crimes—and the fact that he disappeared without a trace before prosecutors could bring him to trial—has only enhanced his legend. I was interested in exploring both sides of his legend: the globe-trotting adventurer vs. the criminal mastermind. He wouldn’t have made such a fascinating character if he were only one or the other.