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PARK CITY '99: "The Blair Witch Project" Screams at Midnight

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire July 14, 1999 at 2:00AM

+ PARK CITY '99: "The Blair Witch Project" Screams at Midnight
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+ PARK CITY '99: "The Blair Witch Project" Screams at Midnight

By Danny Lorber


[From Split Screen to Sundance, Cannes to magazine covers, "The Blair Witch
Project" finally opens officially in ten markets today, after a special
midnight screening last night in New York. Judgement day has arrived for
the Florida filmmaking team and everyone in the independent industry is
wondering what will happen next. Rumor has it that distributor Artisan is
looking for a $20 million gross.

Since we first interviewed Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick at Sundance
'99, much has happened. They received the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes,
joining the ranks of filmmakers like Spike Lee ("Do the Right Thing") and
Don McKellar ("Last Night"). Coverage on the film has appeared or will soon
appear, in publications as diverse as Spin, American Cinematographer,
Premiere, Interview, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times. And prompted by
Artisan, the filmmakers shot a new conclusion after a New Jersey test
screening audience was confused by the ending -- but then went back to
their original. (For close viewers of the film, an added interview in the
beginning now helps make sense of the eerie finale.) But above all else,
the essence of what makes "The Blair Witch Project" one of the most
intriguing, original indies of the year remains the same.

indieWIRE movie critic Danny Lorber spoke to the filmmakers before Sundance
'99 about the inspiration and unique process behind their much talked about
debut film. - ed.]

Sophisticated and genuinely scary horror movies simply haven't been made
by filmmakers working at any level of the film industry in almost two
decades. While the eighties brought the silly, gruesome and macabre
"Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" series, the late
nineties brought us "Scream" and all the wink-wink, movie-savvy
mock-horror films that the original "Scream" inspired.


While these films are occasionally frightening, they are so knowing and
exaggerated in mood that the fright we feel is completely fleeting. One
probably has to go back to Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of "The
Shining
" when naming the last American-made horror movie that really
freaked out smart audiences to the point that the film stayed with them
for days, causing bad dreams and rattled nerves.


Out of no where, however, comes a new and disarmingly small American
indie titled "The Blair Witch Project" that's set for a midnight
screening at Sundance and may just be the most original and potent
horror movie seen on screens in nearly twenty years.


A BRILLIANT SET-UP


Shot almost entirely on video, the debut feature from Orlando, Florida
director-screenwriter-editors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick begins
with a written explanation of the film we're about to see. It's told
that three student documentary filmmakers went to Blair, Maryland to
make a film about a witch myth that has plagued the fictional
Mid-eastern town for almost a decade. While shooting the film, it's
explained, the filmmakers disappeared and were never heard from again.
However, the filmmakers' footage was found, and the film that follows
will be a presentation of that footage. While this introduction clearly
makes it clear that "The Blair Witch Project" is not a real documentary,
it's an intriguing opening -- and without giving too much away about a
film that screams for fresh discovery, the film begins innocuously -
even charmingly - as three aspiring filmmakers head out excitedly to
work on their first project. The opening scenes are nothing other than
light - but they're very watchable -- it's as if we're watching a
friend's videotape of a weird adventure he or she took.


The lightness of the opening scenes is taken with a grain of salt. After
all, we know that things aren't going to turn out well for the three
college-aged filmmakers we are watching. When the trio heads to the
woods to locate an old witch cemetery - things begin to get weird. We
see no witches, special effects or charred bodies. But in subtle ways a
darkness begins to linger over both the characters and the film -- and
the film's mood grows in panic and desperation quietly, before we know
what has hit us.


INSPIRATION


Sanchez and Myrick graduated from the Central Florida University film
program six years ago, and they have lived in Orlando since then,
working on film and television crews while thinking up their own
projects on the side. "We were inspired by low budget

This article is related to: Interviews