Creative Filmmaking or Blatant Hoax?
A group of independent filmmakers may have pulled off the most successful entertainment hoax since Orson Welles presented The War of the Worlds on his radio broadcast in 1938. Welles at least announced that his program was a fictional dramatization. Even so, many panic-stricken listeners really believed the Martians had landed. But The Blair Witch Project is passed off as actual film footage. The film appears to be shot by three young people who disappeared while making a documentary in a part of the Maryland woods supposedly haunted by an evil witch.
Amateur production values and hand-held camera techniques contribute to the film’s extreme realism. However, they also make it very difficult to watch. Playing the doomed main characters, Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard project all the right emotions expected from anyone lost in the forest and subjected to unknown terrors. Donahue, as the project leader, gives an especially strong performance. Thankfully, since she is not really a victim of the Blair witch, moviegoers can look forward to seeing her again on the big screen in such films as Home Field Advantage and Under the Hammock.
What accounts for such wide-spread interest in a little independent film? No doubt the World Wide Web has played a key role in this phenomenon. In June of 1998, filmmakers opened a Blair Witch Website (http://www.blairwitch.com). To date, this Website has received an amazing 32 million hits! Also, the Sci-fi Channel presented an hour-long special examining the events leading up to the disappearance of Heather, Jason, and Michael. Perhaps even more important, The Blair Witch Project taps into primitive beliefs about the supenatural in a way not tried before by traditional filmmakers.
The men behind The Blair Witch Project are co-writers and co-directors Ed Sanchez and Dan Myrick plus producer Gregg Hale. In the press notes, Myrick describes the collaborative process involved. “Ed and I wrote up the concept we’d dreamed up in film school, and Gregg gave his input. Then during the shoot I was shadowing the actors in the woods, Ed was back making development notes, and the three of us would watch each day’s tapes to plan the next day.”
Joined by producers Robin Cowie and Michael Monello, these filmmakers created a complicated mythology for the movie’s story --- a mythology dating back to 1785 and focusing on a woman who was banished from the town of Blair for witchcraft. With the tremendous success of The Blair Witch Project, it’s almost as if these men have engaged in a kind of witchcraft themselves. WARNING: It’s not over yet. A book and comics are on the way. And that Website keeps on going, and going, and going.
(Released by Artisan Entertainment and rated “R” for frightening situations and strong language.)