Hugh Robert Nesbitt spent most of his life on the open road, and his adventures continued well after his death.
Nesbitt called Vancouver Island home, but he travelled far and wide, almost entirely by motorcycle.
He crossed Canada twice, attended numerous motorcycle rallies in the States and hunted and fished all over the province. His friends and loved ones called him Biker Bob. In 2015, when Biker Bob died in a motorcycle accident, his wife Maudine Pervil sent his ashes on a journey worthy of a lifelong adventurer: poured into a beer bottle and chucked into the ocean with a note that read: “Biker Bob. If you find me, turn me loose.”
Biker Bob’s final journey is the subject of Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure. The short documentary from director Cat Mills and producer Joella Cabalu (the former a former Vancouverite, the latter based in Vancouver) introduces audiences to the community that sprung up as a direct result of the titular adventure.
Shortly after Pervil threw Biker Bob into the sea, people around Vancouver Island started calling up their local media outlets with reports of astounding encounters with Biker Bob’s bottle. In every case, they’d discover it washed up on a beach, pull out the ashes and the note, and feel compelled to take it out for a beer before returning it to the sea — but not before finding themselves somehow changed by the experience.
Mills already had one quirky documentary (Fixed! — about a repair café in Toronto) under her belt when she stumbled across Biker Bob’s story in her travels around the internet. She immediately recognized its potential to be told in documentary form.
Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventureis as much about the strangers who find the bottle on the beach as it is about Biker Bob and his widow. The documentary leads to a jaw-dropping conclusion that we’re not going to spoil here, but Mills describes it as the perfect example of what can happen when we “set aside this fear we have of each other. Wonderful relationships can happen in unlikely places. They’re all strangers. I just think we need to take more chances on each other.”
Neither Mills nor Cabalu had much experience with biker culture before they began work on the documentary.
“I think that’s one of the things I love most about docs, that you’re being introduced to a culture and a world that you would not have known had you not been involved in making the documentary,” says Cabalu.
She describes being at Pervil’s house and watching as the widow and the strangers who found her husband’s bottle broke bread and bonded.
“Watching how they were all getting along so well within minutes of meeting each other, I realized that, had I seen these people in a different context, I probably would not have approached them or talked to them,” says Cabalu. “And yet it’s unbelievable that we have so many things in common.”
This kind of earnestness is in short supply in the documentary world, where filmmakers typically seek to right wrongs and affect societal change through hard-hitting journalism. But Cabalu sees a place for quirky, feel-good pieces such as Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure alongside more serious fare.
“In a time where there’s so much despair and so much hatred, I think the films that Cat makes and the films we want to make together are ones about the human spirit, and the goodness of people,” says Cabalu. “This film is a reminder that people are good, and about the importance of community, and how you can build community even under the most bizarre of circumstances.”
On Sept. 21, Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure will screen at the Lunenberg Doc Fest in UNESCO Lunenberg, Nova Scotia — one of the preeminent documentary markets in the country. The film has also screened at NSI Online Film Festival, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and Reel Shorts Film Festival in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
“This film is a reminder that there are good people there, and that you can always make a new friend,” says Mills. She pauses, and laughs. “It sounds sappy. I know it does, but it’s true. It’s such a Canadian story.”
You can watch the film right now on the CBC Short Docs web site HERE.