The mockumentary has steadily evolved over the last 30 years, borrowing here and there from the found footage and talking head formats that have opened doors to parody and satire. Recently, more emphasis has been placed on the actual filmmaker – how much can we trust them? Has the narrative been predetermined or simply edited together from hours of film? These questions are reintroduced by Morgan Matthews in his quasi-documentary Shooting Bigfoot (2013), which joins three groups of sasquatch hunters across the southern States, cutting between the trio with near-perfect comic timing and narrative nous.
In one posse, Dallas and Wayne are like Batman and Robin past their best, pointing at pictures of previous ‘sightings’ and filled with stories of their youth when they’d apparently come into contact with Bigfoot. Wandering out into the forest, they screech, shout and plant traps for their prey, while squabbling and disagreeing over the most trivial of things. Tragic figures, they’re poles apart from Tom Biscardi, a loud-mouth die-hard who was famously censured for his part in a hoax operation with Rick Dyer (also the film’s third and final character).
In one sense, there’s a troubling scornful tone to Shooting Bigfoot, as if Matthews has travelled to the Deep South just to laugh and poke fun at its citizens. One could replace Bigfoot with any number of other spiritual or conspiratorial beliefs that many people may hold; it’s just that the sasquatch is so obviously a tool for humour. Yet in another, there’s an overt absurdity to the whole thing which is great fun to watch: imagine sitting at home watching TV while at the same time, somewhere in North America, a group of old men are laying out tins of mackerel to lure a 20-foot-tall ape-man. Once the comedy settles, however, the narrative plummets from playfulness to terror, to reveal an altogether more questionable film.
It becomes apparent that these men, most noticeably Dyer, are conspiring to trick Matthews into discovering a Bigfoot. While out in the woods, Dyer and Matthews become increasingly alarmed and edgy, as the film spirals more towards the likes of 2010’s Catfish. The editing is suspiciously convoluted, potentially implicating the filmmaker himself in a plot to fake a sighting, and the sense of real and staged is completely blurred. Intriguing on the one hand yet hammy on the other, this will certainly divide audiences, and within the context of the whole documentary becomes too phoney. Most conceivably, Bigfoot is simply a modern folkloric symbol: to capture or prove its existence is to outflank a cynical society full of naysayers and lucid critics.
What motivates the believers is this desire to confirm their own paranoia, to qualify their views that originate from an overall suspicion of mainstream society. Had this mysticism surrounding neo-folklore been fully excavated instead of poked fun at, there could be much more to this documentary than just its quirky editing. Matthews has shot himself in the foot by manipulating Shooting Bigfoot to trick the viewer. At best it’s a renewed experiment within documentary film; at worst an indulgent Blair Witch Project rip-off.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.