Prospectus: The Blair Witch Project

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Emma Schwartz

Prospectus: The Blair Witch Project

The hoax I am interested in doing a research paper on is the film The Blair Witch Project. Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the film follows 3 student filmmakers on their journey to find an urban legend known as the Blair Witch. The entirety of the film is shot as a documentary with all footage coming from a handy camera. The footage is supposed to be taken during 1997 in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. Before they embark on the hike, they interview townspeople about their take on the legend of the Blair Witch. Over the course of several days, the 3 characters encounter spooky and unexplainable occurrences such as cackling and creepy rock formations. As the film progresses, these freak like occurrences only intensify.
The Blair Witch Project is not the first major motion picture to employ aspects of documentary film, however it can be argued that it lead a precedent in the world of horror “mockumenteries” (mock documentaries). The question I want to pose is: How does The Blair Witch Project utilize the genre of documentary film to create a not only convincing portrayal or reality but also a compelling means of entertainment as a horror film?

With this question I want to explore the growth of the genre of documentary film in the late 20th century and early 21st century. The film is shot with a RCA Hi-8 Camcorder, a basic handy-cam that was very popular with the general public during the time it was filmed. The use of an amateur camera and shaky video footage makes the film seem authentic. This type of film wasn’t popular to Hollywood major motion pictures yet so for many it was the first time they had seen anything of its kind. This resulted in confusion where a surprising amount of the audience believed they had just viewed reality. I want to explore in my paper why this is so and through what aspects created this general confusion. I plan to argue that facets such as time period, the growth of documentary, growth of mock-documentary or ‘docufiction’ and the psychology or theory behind them and the effects of unscripted improvised dialog. Through aspects such as these I hope to discuss how these all shape the viewers take on reality.

I have found many sources on these topics and hope to create a convincing argument for how mock- documentaries can be so believable even if it is something as outrageous as a two hundred year old witch that kills three students. I think the premise of my paper will talk about how viewers experience documentary film as pure reality and how the genre of mock-documentaries build off of that assumption to create a work that blurs the line between perception and reality. Much of this has to do with the concept of the camera/ video camera. Many times in the film the characters make remarks about videotaping and how it acts as a barrier from reality so I plan to explore that idea further with more tangible evidence.
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