Shooting Bigfoot review

A documentary or a mockumentary? Andrew catches up with Shooting Bigfoot at the Edinburgh International Film Festival...

What do we know about Bigfoot? We have a regularly updated list of comedians who haven’t seen one, thanks to Richard Herring’s podcasts. We know, thanks to Anchorman, that his penis smells like a turd covered with burnt hair (although this smells like desire to some people). What Shooting Bigfoot reminds us during its introduction is that he has a strange appeal to children, a legendary creature who really belongs in the imagination of the young. Or possibly those with child-like minds. There are other truths to be found in this film. It’s sad, hilarious, and will provoke debate among those who witness it.

We live in a world where The Apprentice is accepted as entertainment, with its paper-thin façade of realism concocted in the editing suite. This is where the real magic (so advanced that it’s indistinguishable from increasingly formulaic television) happens. It sure as hell isn’t with the guy who writes Lord Sugar’s one liners. Having said that, look at the confident rich fools making idiots of themselves. Laugh, as they say, out loud at the social media mockery. Here you will find another (equally creative) warping of reality.

Shooting Bigfoot is a documentary. It says it is at the start. The project is directed and presented by an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Morgan Matthews. However, he also receives a writing credit.

How much of Shooting Bigfoot is real, how much is scripted, and how much is just superb editing …this is all up for debate as the end credits roll. There are already theories out there online, and anyone familiar with this film will already have an opinion. Watch it first. In its own right its a highly entertaining ninety minutes of cinema, as well as belonging to a burgeoning subgenre of documentaries which needs spoiler warnings.

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It’s accepted that documentary makers will shoot as much footage as possible, and then seek an angle from their material. With Shooting Bigfoot, we are presented with so many characters that it feels too good to be true; the angle writing itself, the comedy coming so steadily as to feel slightly contrived. The editing is merciless (kudos to Ben Chanan for his work, it’s got exquisite timing), the brilliant title sequence playful, and even the incidental music seems like it’s ripping the piss out of proceedings.

As a presenter, Matthews utilises his contextually quaint Englishness – he sounds meek even when swearing – to get away with some goading worthy of Mark Lamarr in his prime. This prevents him from being merely a carbon copy of Louis Theroux, though while seeking out the folk who hunt and track Bigfoot for a living, Matthews’ film excels in unearthing some tragicomic brilliance that comes with earnest realism and absolutely zero self-awareness.

Dallas and Wayne are two old men it is almost impossible not to feel sorry for. Dallas has been retired since an injury at work, and states that one day he was attacked by a Bigfoot. He and Wayne go out to woodland roads, playing cassettes of animal noises and wooping repeatedly in order to attract the creatures. They have hundreds of blurry photos, and see the creatures frequently, seemingly at odds with Matthews’ camera. Dallas’ wife is aware of her husband’s reputation (here the observation that he should ‘get a life’ is particularly tragic), and notes the deteriorating effect his behaviour has had on their marriage.

The undercurrent of their situation is deeply sad, one of a small, recession-hit deep South town. The editing initially seems cruel, but Wayne is seen at one point giving money to a homeless woman he has known for years, highlighting the benign n ature of the pair. Their strange bickering and quasi-religious behaviour evokes sympathy more than laughter, with the exception of Dallas’ explanation for why he has an affinity with Bigfoots, which is just so ludicrous as to suspend all emotional response other than laughter.

The same cannot be said for Tom Biscardi, a man who has been making documentaries about Bigfoot for years. He’s a monstrous rampage of a man, making Alan Partridge and David Brent look restrained. His van has a sign on the side. It reads:

“HERE COMES”The Bigfoot Hunter

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It is possibly that Biscardi is a sociopath. His reactions to events certainly suggest so, and he certainly has absolutely no idea how he comes across on camera.

Finally, we meet Rick Dyer. He and an accomplice were involved in a recent hoax that incriminated Biscardi, so we’re advised not to trust him. Matthews heads into the wild with all three, and it is Dyer’s section that is the most interesting. Biscardi, Dallas and Wayne’s segments end with confusion or fear during night time trails (after various sightings). Initially everyone involved seems deluded, but Dyer and Matthews’ stakeout in Texan woods ends up being the focal point of the finale, the other two strands simply coming to an end unexpectedly and without any narrative conclusion.

In Texas, however, there is a palpable tension as things become steadily more Blair Witchy. The original sighting comes from a homeless woman, and the woods have tents dotted around with various people living in them (it’s hard to say if there is anyone in the film who isn’t very damaged, with homelessness in the area being depicted regularly and unflinchingly). A young man who appears several times soon becomes deeply creepy, and it is implied that he and Dyer might be involved in trying to freak Matthews out. Ultimately, the denouement is weirder and more provocative than I had initially anticipated.

Shooting Bigfoot might not feel entirely trustworthy, but it is entertaining. Whether or not it is honest is another aspect that’s up for debate, and raises questions about documentaries in general. Are we really expecting our presenters to be entirely truthful, when fabrication can enable them to get a better response from their subjects? Are their subjects the people they are interviewing, or the people who are watching?

As a BBC co-production, we can hope that this film finds itself onto the television schedules at some point. When it does, you should definitely watch it. Beyond rekindling memories of reading books about Sasquatch as a child, it’s a fascinating, hilarious, tense and oddly moving piece.

It’ll sure as hell be fun to argue about at the pub afterwards.

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4 out of 5