FANTASTIC FEST: The Found Footage Phenomenon (2021)

Written and directed by Sarah Appleton (who has worked on many documentary shorts and DVD extras, as well as being the cinematographer of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror) and Phillip Escott (who wrote and directed Cruel Summer), The Found Footage Phenomenon has done the impossible: take a genre that I saw no value in whatsoever and prove to me that not only its merit, but also showing me moments of films that I love that relate to the found footage genre.

The film looks the whole way back to Bram Stroker’s Dracula as an early use of found footage, as the letters and documents in the story were a way of making the unreal real. Other points in the genre’s creation were within Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, the film within Peeping Tom and perhaps the first movie that claimed to have real footage as its central narrative, Cannibal Holocaust. There’s an astounding moment here that asks us to check our morality at the door and realize that if we recontextualize the animal violence within that film, we see that by placing it next to special effects, we started to wonder what was real and what was a movie. And that’s really at the heart of what all found footage is.

If there’s a creator that has made these films, chances are they show up here. Everyone from Mr. Cannibal himself, Ruggero Deodato to Troll Hunter director André Øvredal, Blair Witch creator Eduardo Sánchez, Jaume Balagueró of (REC) fame, Kōji Shiraishi, Aislinn Clarke, Patrick Brice (who made Creep and also has There’s Someone Inside Your House premiering at Fantastic Fest), Rob Savage, Ghostwatch‘s Leslie Manning and Stephen Volk Michael Goi, The McPherson Tape‘s Dean Alioto and The Last Broadcast‘s Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler — along with several writers and critics — gets the opportunity to share their found footage love and knowledge.

Whether you love these films or — like me — you greatly dislike them, this documentary is engaging, entertaining and even mind-altering. Well done.

The Found Footage Phenomenon is playing Fantastic Fest this week. When it is released, we’ll update this post with information on how you can watch it.

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