Finding Horror Community in Lockdown: Unnamed Footage Festival Recap

This is coverage of the Unnamed Footage Film Festival 24-hour webathon, continue reading for a look at the fourth year of the only found footage festival in North America. 

There is no doubt that the way we watch films has been tested in the last year. Theaters struggle to hold on as blockbuster films premiere on streaming sites. Film festivals do the previously unthinkable work of finding a way to go online.

Viewers now have to experience films alone in places where they used to be community events with friends and peers. And it can be isolating. 

Connecting in the Horror Community in the Time of Coronavirus 

So what does this have to do with the Unnamed Footage Festival? The festival was made four years ago with the intention of showing lower-budget, lesser-known found footage horror movies in theaters, an experience many of them wouldn’t get otherwise.

Like a lot of other film festivals and theaters, after the pandemic, UFF had to rethink their entire purpose and form to continue. This year, what they came up with was a 24-hour interactive webathon (the first of its kind, as far as I know) encouraging horror fans to connect with each other while sharing an experience, virtually. 

Unnamed Footage Festival Schedule

While it was a bit grueling to stay up that long (but then again, what film festival isn’t a little bit grueling?) the marathon-style festival overall was entertaining and encouraging to know I was part of a collective of horror fans experiencing this at the same exact time across America and beyond. 

I don’t know if it was intentional, but the festival couldn’t help but conjure up a similar horror event that happened recently: the 24-hour Last Drive-In marathon on Shudder that brought back Joe Bob Briggs and “broke the internet” in 2018. 

Even though it was simpler times (pre-pandemic), the incredible response to this live show, where people could watch at the same time across the world and make friends with other people watching it on social media, indicated that horror fans were craving connection with each other. 

Similarly, horror Facebook groups host watch parties where they can also chat with each other while simultaneously watching the same movie, as opposed to watching a movie alone, which is becoming the norm with the shift towards streaming sites. 

The UFF embraced the horror fans’ desire for community by structuring their festival as one wacky marathon, while most other film festivals moving online have tried to keep the same format that they would have done live, buying tickets for a showing at a specific time. You can still connect with other viewers via social media this way, but it’s just not the same. 

While Twitter was an option, the UFF also incorporated a chatbox within the same window as the marathon that surprisingly did not self-implode, and was a space where people discussed films as they were happening and shared where they were watching from. 

This all means that connecting with others through this marathon experience was pretty close to a live festival, if not better. In the experiment that has become film festivals, UFF won, and I would not be surprised if other film festivals follow suit. 

The marathon of new and old found footage films itself was not the only thing the creative people behind UFF prepared for this festival. The festival opens with the fest organizers pulling the VHS marathon out of their stomach in a Videodrome-style homage, which you can view below.

Between blocks of films, the webathon was being “hosted” by a crude, dry-humoured host named “Vernon Herman Salinger” who interviewed festival coordinators and put on amusing skits. Film and culture critic Mary Beth McAndrews interviewed multiple film directors throughout the festival, some of which are available on their Youtube. 

The coolest and most intricate addition to the festival was something so clever I actually did not notice at first. Their supposed festival sponsor “Waketrix.” This “company” supposedly makes a sleep suppressant drug, and even has a website that looks pretty legit at a glance. However, inspecting it at all will reveal that it was something the festival created as a spooky found footage experience that has scary notes hidden throughout and apparently games as well. Check it out for yourself. 

All this is to say that the festival was pretty darn cool. Now I’ll share my film highlights of the webathon. 

Short Film Highlights of the Unnamed Footage Festival

Found footage. You love it or you hate it. I, for one, love it and found some great films from this festival that were memorable, for good or bad reasons. There was a lot of great talent represented, with films from Spree director Eugene Kotlyarenko and Harpoon director Rob Grant, and other films that were submitted completely anonymously. 

About 30 shorts and 16 features made up the marathon. Without a doubt, some of them rose above the rest.

The first film that impressed me in conflicting ways was a short called Paloma’s Pit by Michael Arcos. The short combines a poetic yet grungy dedication to a cat that died with spy footage (that was cleared by their lawyer) of the cat’s owners confronting the owner of the dog that killed the cat. It is extremely uncomfortable, especially the disturbing claymation cat that narrates the story, and yet is such a moving, eccentric and personal found footage-style dedication to this cat that I couldn’t help but be grossly enamored. 

Paloma's Pit

Paloma’s Pit – Image Courtesy of Michael Arcos

From the same director was a short about a jaguar that escapes his cage and wreaks havoc on his zoo, Valerio’s Day Out. The found footage features real news reels and narrates from the perspective of the killer cat. You can check the short out below.

Another standout short was one that also showed at the iHorror Film Festival in 2019: Possessions 2. Directed by Zeke Farrow, this short is the live videos of an eccentric man holding a sale of his odd belongings, one of which is not as innocent as it seems. 

I loved the style of the short Wet Nurse Trilogy created by special effects company Feast Effects. This trilogy was basically a goblin-looking guy doing various disgusting things (think vomit and goo) to a pair of fake breasts, and I was definitely about that. Hey, boob goo is cool. Check it out below (NSFW).

The short What’s Craicin’! Directed by Chase Honaker, which shows a man unboxing a strange religious cult’s life advice videos, was also very spooky and original. 

The best shorts of the marathon to me were both directed by video game critic Brian David Gilbert and prolific writer Karen Han. The first was Earn $20K EVERY MONTH by being your own boss, which spoofs life advice Youtube videos in a terrifying paranormal way. 

His other short, which I found to be the best of the fest, was Teaching Jake About the Camcorder, Jan ‘97, which is a terrifying and yet emotional view of a man watching a tape of his dad teach him how to use a camera over and over again. It reminds me of one of my favorite horror films of last year, the funny and experimental VHYes.

Feature Highlights of Unnamed Footage Festival

The first feature at the festival was the excellent I Blame Society (2020) directed by Gillian Horvat. The film follows the main character and director, Horvat, playing a woman filmmaker who continues to get rejected for having too disturbing ideas for a girl, instead of helping create “strong female characters.” Dealing with various other personal problems with her life, she realizes that as a woman she can very easily get away with murder. 

I Blame Society

I Blame Society

The film follows a recent resurgence of low budget, dialogue-heavy comedic dark films dubbed “mumblecore horror” or better yet, “mumblegore,” along the likes of Creep and V/H/S. 

The next film was 1974: The Possession of Altair (2016) directed by Victor Dryere, a Mexican ‘70s 8mm-stylized home video from the perspective of a newlywed couple who experience supernatural occurrences as they move into a house. Personally I find the found footage possession genre a bit overplayed (see Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism) but for anyone into possession movies I would recommend this moody flick. 

1974 Unnamed Footage Festival

1974: The Possession of Altair – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

A group of feature films at the fest would satisfy the extreme exploitation gore hounds in horror. The first was Long Pigs (2007) a Canadian mockumentary on a serial killer cannibal who has a dream of publishing a cookbook for human meat, directed by Chris Power and Nathan Hymes. This movie was pretty funny and the serial killer at the center was as nice as a dad at a cookout. 

There was also some incredible special effects work going on, with multiple instances of people being cleaved in two while hung up and a really amazing time-lapse of a body being dismembered and prepared as if a pig at a butcher shop. 

Long Pigs Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Long Pigs, image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Next on the disgusting and disturbing list was Descent Into Darkness: My European Nightmare (2013), directed, written and starring Rafael Cherkaski. Now, when someone tells you a movie is disturbing, a horror fan usually scoffs and thinks yeah, right. Believe me when I tell you that this movie is no joke and truly is a “descent into darkness.” It is not for the faint hearted. 

A Latvian journalist sets off to make a documentary on “the European dream” which would have him traveling to various European countries to film his experience, however after running out of money and a series of harrowing events, the director starts to unravel. 

Descent Into Darkness Unnamed Footage Festival

Descent Into Darkness: My European Nightmare- Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

The last goretastic film wss Reel 2 (2020) from director Chris Good Goodwin. Another movie from the perspective of a serial killer, SlasherVictim 666, who actually is setting out to make a film as he believes he is “the greatest director who ever lived.” This is a sequel and I would recommend both to gorehounds as they feature really intense special effects, reminiscent of a lower budget Texas Chain Saw Massacre from the perspective of the family.

Outside of the extreme gore, I wasn’t really a fan of this, however I haven’t seen the first and have heard it is better. 

On the subject of gore, Harpoon director Rob Grant’s film Fake Blood (2017) is a pretty good faux documentary looking at the effects of violence in his previous films on real violence.

Fake Blood Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Fake Blood – image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Additional noteworthy films included a new cut of Murder Death Koreatown (2020), one of my favorite films of last year, that follows a white man that becomes convinced of a murder conspiracy after someone is murdered in the apartment complex next to him, which actually happened in real life. This film is completely anonymous and apparently most of the people he interrogates throughout the film are non-actors who were not aware that this was a film (which brings up questions of exploitation and ethics in filmmaking).

This new cut was given to the film festival as a VHS that was supposedly the only copy that existed, with instructions to destroy it immediately after airing, which they did on air by running it over with a car. The new cut, according to the festival coordinators, was the so-called “conspiracy cut” that emphasized the conspiracy at the center of the film and made it seem more real. It also included a new creepy beginning. 

Murder Death Koreatown

Murder Death Koreatown

The last film of the festival is perhaps one of the most crazy, batshi*t insane horror films I have had the pleasure of viewing. The Video Diary of Madi O: Final Entries (2012), with no director or cast attached, is a film that the festival personally vouched for as a future cult classic. I didn’t believe them for the first cringy half of this film but was definitely convinced by the end. I wouldn’t consider it a good movie, but I would definitely consider it a movie that will challenge your idea of what a horror movie is, or what a “plot” is. 

Final Entries The Video Diary of Madi O Poster

Final Entries The Video Diary of Madi O Poster – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

The film follows two girls who decide to run away from home and find a house to squat in. That’s really all that can be said without spoiling the weirdness of this film, and also can be said coherently. It ties in legit academic film theory in in ways that make me question if the creator is a genius, or a madman. 

It is also available for free on Plex and has a very Blair Witch Project online campaign purporting the veracity of it, including a website to find the missing girls and a Change.org Petition. It resembles Megan Is Missing, but on lots of drugs. 

My top film from the festival is actually not a film at all, but an edited together version of a Youtube channel. I Am Sophie(2021) was a somewhat viral Youtube series that tricked a few different people into thinking it was real, starting off as a rich girl’s blog about her life. What it turns into, however, is a terrifying Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that will definitely stay on the mind after viewing.

I Am Sophie

I Am Sophie – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

As it came out on Youtube with no indication that it was fake, I also think this film captures the spirit of the festival the best, as a realistic found footage experience with a fake Instagram going along with it. It also has a similar style to some Adult Swim horror infomercials, which I’m a fan of. 

Overall, this was a great festival, between the great collection of films and creative and artistic execution, this was probably one of the best film festivals I’ve “attended.” They will most likely return to a more traditional festival setting next year in California, COVID-19 willing, but anyone in that area I highly recommend to attend. 

Even if festivals do return to the real world in the future, I hope other festivals find ways to stylize and create an intimate and connected experience like this festival did, and I’m sure anyone who attending this year will remember that 24 hours fondly. 

All of the funds made by the festival went towards keeping theaters opened, and while the festival is over, if you still want to make a donation you can at this link. If you want to keep up with the Unnamed Footage Festival, they have a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Keep up to date with iHorror for more festival coverage, and look out for incoming reviews.