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  Found Footage Phenomenon, The They Make Movies On Phones Now
Year: 2021
Director: Sarah Appleton, Philip Escott
Stars: Dean Alioto, Stefan Avalos, James Cullen Bressack, Patrick Brice, Aislinn Clarke, Steven DeGennaro, Ruggero Deodato, Michael Goi, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Derek Lee, Lesley Manning, Doron Paz, Yoav Paz, Cliff Prowse, Richard Raaphorst, Julian Richards
Genre: Horror, DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Found footage movies, that is fictions that pretend to present themselves as fact so that it appears as if the footage has been captured by one or more of the characters, gained popularity when The Blair Witch Project was such a huge hit in 1999, just on the cusp of the Millennium. However, there had been examples before that in the fake documentary genre, and this series of talking heads and film clips have been assembled to round up the usual suspects and throw a little light on the more obscure examples. Over the course of an hour and forty minutes, the directors offer a depth to the style that its many naysayers might have been too easy to dismiss. Could it be it has more worth than commonly acknowledged?

Perhaps the found footage genre is a victim of The Blair Witch Project's success - what started as a sensation that was the must-see of '99, where the buzz was whether it was real or not, quickly lost its lustre and the cynics took over, insisting they were never fooled (which is quite likely) but keen to tar any and every of its offspring with the same brush. It was true there were many examples where the results were very samey and underwhelming, but every so often you would be offered a found footage movie that was genuinely entertaining, and not the province of edgelords trying to posit such questions as "What is real?" or "Who is the actual madman?" or whatever the worst examples attempted to sum up in ninety minutes.

This film argues that the democratisation of technology is a reason why the approach prospered, and it was accurate to say with the rise of YouTube and its followers that anyone and everyone were making their own found footage clips: they were what used to be known as home movies. Yet this feeling that found footage was so easy to make cheapened the medium, and once we were living in the world post-September 11th 2001, it was all too easy to take real life horror over the fictional variety, though as conspiracy theories bloomed that, too, was subject to fantasy and blurring of accuracy. How did the movies respond? With imitating reality in horrors such as Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, to take two extremes of budget.

Obviously there will be omissions in even a documentary that comes across as overlong as this does: there's no mention of Peter Watkins' The War Game, the quasi-doc that examined nuclear war and was banned from British television, or Alternative 3, the spoof that fooled a lot of viewers of ITV two decades before the much-vaunted Ghostwatch did the same (that does get an extensive bit). There's also no mention how television comedy pioneered the format, maybe understandably as this concentrated on the horror entries, but the contribution the small screen has made to the genre was rather neglected. Especially when the evening news was such a cornerstone of the overall style of the genre, as the horrors copied real-life footage and its trappings to give themselves an authenticity that nobody believed they had anyway, a curious state of affairs. This was fine as far as it went, but nobody had any insights you could not have thought up yourself after a little rumination, and unlike some film documentaries you would probably not be noting down the little-known titles it showed in clips, either because they didn't pick the good bits, or frankly because they looked kind of rubbish. Music by Simon Boswell.

[The Found Footage Phenomenon - A Shudder Original
New Film Premieres 19th May]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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