Cinema Vérité, a filmmaking style that became popular in France during the 1960’s, has come back in style in a big way. Used by the current blockbuster “Paranormal Activity,” this “film as truth” style tends to feature little-known actors, realistic settings and dialogue. The upcoming thriller “The Fourth Kind” also uses Cinema Vérité to help explain what happened to some missing citizens of Nome, Alaska.
Cinema Vérité and “The Blair Witch Project”
Although Hollywood has a tendency to beef up a good story with explosive special effects, “The Blair Witch Project” shows that Cinema Vérité can pack theater seats just as well as a big-budget popcorn movie. Unknown actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams play college students who have the same names as the actors. With the camera following their every move, the trio heads into the woods around Burkittsville, Maryland in search of the truth behind the Blair Witch, a local legend.
Captured by hand-held cameras, Donahue, Leonard and Williams had to improvise tense situations as realistically as possible. During post-production interviews, the actors said they received instructions from directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchéz in the form of small notes. For instance, Leonard could receive a note one morning telling him to start a fight with the other two students.
Though it took years for Myrick and Sanchéz to finish editing their piece, “The Blair Witch Project” ultimately broke box-office records and became a modern horror classic. The key scene where Heather Donahue reveals her fear privately to the camera is both an unforgettable moment and a perfect example of Cinema Vérité.
“Cloverfield” and the power of Cinema Vérité
Like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfield” begins with a frame explaining the origins of the film that the audience is about to see. In this case, the digital video footage was “discovered” in the rubble that once was Central Park. The story opens with scenes of happy people at a party, but smiles and laughter soon turn to terror as something horrible invades New York City.
The hand-held camera follows a small group of terrified survivors as they make their way across the city. The action takes a detour into the fantastic, with large bug-like creatures biting hapless human victims, whose bodies subsequently burst apart. Still, the shaky footage and realistic reactions make “Cloverfield” another great use of Cinema Vérité.
Factual evidence in “The Fourth Kind”
In the 1970’s, Steven Spielberg made sure everyone knew the meaning of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” A reference to the different kinds of alien encounters, “Third Kind” means actual contact with beings from another planet. “The Fourth Kind” describes a more frightening encounter, namely alien abduction.
This upcoming movie uses the fact that many citizens of Nome, Alaska mysteriously go missing each year as a jumping-off point. Using recorded interviews that are supposed to be with actual abduction victims, “The Fourth Kind” attempts to use Cinema Vérité to explain what has been going on in Nome for years.
“The Fourth Kind,” rated PG-13 for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality, opens nationwide on Friday, November 6.