I blame Michael Moore.
I blame him for taking the genre of documentary and turning it into ‘entertainment’. I blame him for the way so many documentaries have to have a ‘story’. Most of all I blame him for not actually documenting anything and deciding what he wants his film to be about and then putting together footage that matches that aim.
For me, a documentary should be an adventure, not only for the audience, but also for the director. They should decide on a subject, and research it of course, but they should go on a journey with the viewer and as they do so show them things they had not realised or appreciated. In short documentaries should, you know… document.
Shooting Bigfoot is a documentary. It is also without doubt an entertaining one. It follows director, Morgan Matthews, as he investigates the world of “Bigfoot Hunters”. Why is it that so many in America’s Deep South spend so much time searching for these monsters with so little evidence that they actually exist? Are they crazy, con artists, or perhaps, as unlikely as it might seem, actually onto something?
It is not long into Shooting Bigfoot before we see its director’s face. This is always a warning sign for me. If a documentary has its director as a main character, it is unlikely to be one I am interested in. This is because it becomes about one person’s experience of a particular subject (in this case Bigfoot Hunters) rather than a more objective study of the phenomenon. I have no particular problem with narration, but faces do tend to change the nature of the story as it unfolds.
Aside from Matthews,Shooting Bigfoot has three main sets of characters. The first of these is Tom, a charismatic hunter who is full of great one-liners but also comes across as too clever for his own good. The second is Rick, who once fell out with Tom after they faked a Bigfoot corpse together and Tom blamed the whole thing on Rick. Rick is now something of a loner, and comes across as slightly unhinged through out the film. Finally Dallas and Wayne are slightly older and far more innocent characters. They seem to be the most genuine believers who have all kinds of strange ideas about Bigfoot habits, and swear to have seen the creature several times.
The film cuts between his three adventures with these three different ‘hunters’. Matthews’ southern English tones as far away from the Deep South as one can imagine, which highlights the cultural differences between him and his subjects in a similar way to Louis Theroux’s documentaries.
The comparison to Theroux is an interesting one since he, for instance, is always sympathetic towards his subjects, and keen to give each subject a chance to explain their point of view, no matter how vile or unusual it may be. Matthews on the other hand has no real interest in getting alongside his subjects, and as such the film offers no great insight as to the real motives of spending so much time in the woods looking for something the majority of people would say is not real.
Instead what we get is Matthews seeming to move further and further into the ‘worlds’ of his subjects to the extent that we genuinely fear for his safety with Rick, as well as believing Tom may be planning to pull some kind of trick on him.
The ending to the movie is undoubtedly entertaining and Matthews edits the film together at a great, fluid pace. However, beyond that it does not us much depth of insight into a subject area that could have provided much more than simply laughs.