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Why We Believed in the Blair Witch (and Why We Can’t Anymore)

France, 1981: the Italian film Cannibal Holocaust is released to theaters and the magazine Photo claims that its depictions of butchery were real. Its director Ruggero Deodato is brought before French courts to disprove the allegation and to explain why the film’s cast have been suspiciously absent from the public eye. Deodato acquiesces and produces his actors, revealing that they had agreed not to appear in other media for one year to preserve his film’s illusion of authenticity—an illusion that was perhaps too successful if it landed him in a French court, and an illusion that worked only because Cannibal Holocaust wasn’t a conventional movie. Instead, it allegedly depicted what was recovered from the expedition of a doomed documentary crew filming cannibal tribes in the Amazon rainforest: “found footage.”