I saw this purely on the basis of its name!
Have you ever had a really good idea for a movie? You told yourself “this is gold, Jerry, gold!” However when you told someone they laughed at your face and stole your metro pass? Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. Except me. Last week I shared my fantastic idea with a friend of mine (who is much smaller); it’s a reality show where people trade places with animals for a day. Wouldn’t that be something? I call it “Trading Pigsties”. Get it? I pitched it to a couple networks and although I haven’t heard from anyone since May I’m still hoping for a deal. This brings me to American Cannibal!
This documentary (some would say mockumentary) is the brainchild of Perry Grebin & Michael Nigro, who spent two and a half years silently documenting the trials and tribulations of Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts, struggling writers who were desperately trying to sell their ideas to networks around the United States. What began as a small project in 2003 to document the different stages of a TV pilot (from pitch to production) ballooned into more than 250 hours of footage and numerous questions on the truths and consequences of reality-based entertainment. Gil and Dave have some pretty good ideas, including a reality show they call “Virgin Territory”, sort of a risqué Big Brother idea. They finally get their big break when ‘porn mogul’ Kevin Blatt (infamous for distributing the “One night in Paris” DVD, an excellent Christmas gift by the way) decides to finance an idea he finds most interesting: “American Cannibal”. Basically ten contestants are sent to a remote island, starved for a period of time and led to believe that at the end of competition, someone will be eaten! Unknowingly to KB, Gil and Dave had their heart set on producing ‘Virgin Territory’ and had pitched the other idea to lighten the mood at the meeting, so to speak. Therefore when things get serious and Blatt actually invests money into this venture, shoddy production gets under way while Gil and Dave begrudgingly put up with all the crap that involves finding the right contestants, putting up with the annoying and lazy crew, etc. Their deal is bittersweet indeed.
The entire transition from pitch to production really makes an interesting social commentary on reality; how far are people willing to go to get their 15 minutes of fame? The nuts who showed up to audition would more often than not agree to do anything if picked for the show; that includes eating other contestants’ body parts, going several days without food or water, etc. Although Gil and Dave’s goal is to out-sensationalize all the other reality shows, they fly too close to the sun when things take a turn for the worse at the end, but I won’t spoil that for you. The bigger question lies in our perception of reality; how much are we willing to watch? What constitutes shocking, yet morally viewable television for the masses? The current state of reality television is stagnant and by pushing the envelope, Gil and Dave attempt to bring this phenomenon to the next level. In acquiring a deal their goal is to blast all social perceptions out the window and turn a normal ‘water cooler show’ into a goddamn ‘open bar get wasted show’.
What I really enjoyed about this documentary is, ironically, the reality that it conveys. The omni-present filmmakers who bring us on this journey also interview ‘network experts’ who give somewhat scathing views on society and our need for shock value. The over-hyped and sensationalist nature of reality TV is out of control; we are a very demanding culture that asks for more and more yet thinks less and less for itself. We’ve become so good at imitating reality that we’ll take the fake version over the real one any day. This movie really stirred me inside and I came away with a lot of questions about society and our culture of spoon-fed reality whores. The directors of this documentary asked TV executives “how the most shamelessly lowbrow shows make it to air, and their answers generally said that the quality of TV finds its own level. In other words, if the censors okay it, why not show it?” They add “our voracious appetite for entertainment make up our lives in this day and age, and while authenticity is irrelevant, the more lurid the show, the more ratings.” Shame on us.