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Theme of the Month: Found Footage


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Theme of the Month is an article series designed to investigate the best films that fall under a certain category. This month focuses on the ever-controversial found-footage filming technique, where all three movies use the style in unique ways.

“Chronicle” (2012)

Fragile teen Andrew leads a troubled life, both at home and school. His mother is dying, his father an abusive alcoholic, and bullies harass him daily. When Andrew, his sympathetic cousin, Matt, and enthusiastic Steve find a mysterious object one night, all three of their lives change- but for worse or better?

“Chronicle” makes inventive use of its found-footage cinematography, switching from one perspective to another when necessary and allowing for each and every actor to shine in their individual roles. The movie opens with Andrew’s father beating on his door, barking orders for him to come outside. Immediately, viewers are thrust into the cruel reality “Chronicle” rarely shines away from, and also it gives the lead character a reason to keep recording: to archive his experiences, both the good and bad.

“Chronicle” is a blistering character study of three people under vastly different circumstances. All three of the teenagers are portrayed realistically with their decisions ranging from the impulsive to the tragic, and it remains one of the genre’s top, expertly-crafted films.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006)

In a post-9/11 world, hilariously socially-inept Borat is on a mission to document the cultural landscape of an America plagued by ignorance and bigotry. Borat, an inept Kazakhstani news reporter, narrates the film with hilariously tasteless dialogue, making it both horrifically inappropriate as well as endlessly quotable.

While the movie’s setups may be scripted, the reactions are genuine. Borat (a character created and played by Sacha Baron-Cohen) and his crew contact various organizations feminist groups and dinner clubs for example, posing as a touring Kazakhstan film crew. Not knowing of their true nature, the institutions let them into their homes. As expected, chaos ensues.

The crew encounters just about every type of American you can think of, from the worst (racists) to the modest (Pamela Anderson, who ultimately becomes the object of Borat’s obsession) to everything else in between.

Even if the movie is 11 years old, it remains just as sharp now as it was in its 2006 premier, and perhaps it is even more relevant.

“Cloverfield” (2008)

Reeling in at a run-time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, the tightly-knit “Cloverfield” archives an unknown alien race attacking a terrified New York City. The film is cataloged entirely through the handheld video camera of one group of friends as they hide, run, and try to save one of their own while they are trapped and petrified in the center of the city under crisis.

The camera jitters and jumps frequently, often moving up and down with our characters as they run, but this feels less like a gimmick and more like a unique way of telling a familiar story.

Background and development for our heroes are short, but they provide just enough to let the viewer resonate with them fully, engaging the audience in both the eyes and heart.

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