Winona State’s Film Studies program will be showing The Blair Witch Project on October 31st at 7 pm in SLC 120 as our Halloween event in the Careers, Callings, and Readiness film series. Directed by Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick, this 1999 horror film is comprised of the lost documentary footage of three aspiring filmmakers on their journey to investigate the legendary Blair Witch. The film demonstrates preparation and perseverance throughout one’s career and calling–but does so with the added suspense and cautions of a life-or-death experience.

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Heather Donahue, the aspiring documentary filmmaker in The Blair Witch Project.

The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, which is known as one of the best movie years ever. One of the first films in our series was the subversive and beloved cult comedy classic Office Space.  Others from that year included Fight Club, American Beauty, Toy Story 2, Election, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Being John Malkovich, The Virgin Suicides, and Boys Don’t Cry, and many more. 1999 films are full of ideas and risks, diving into cultural and social problems of the day and deeply influencing those to come.

Of these films, The Blair Witch Project may have been as influential as any. In part, its influence can be seen in its use of the found-footage technique. Found footage has been since used for many different films within many different film genres. For example, the technique is used in the subsequent found-footage horror films Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008); Blair Witch nearly jump-started a brand new subgenre that would experience new heights of popularity in the 21st century.

Even more successful than its narrative technique was the film’s marketing. The Blair Witch Project became one of the most successful independent films of all time. On a minuscule budget of $60,000 it made nearly $250 million worldwide. This success might have been a result of their smart, yet controversial marketing strategy. The producers marketed the movie primarily on the internet including fake police reports and newsreel-style interviews. At the Sundance Festival, where they premiered the movie, people were passing out flyers asking the audience to reveal any information they had about the three “missing” film students. The IMDb page for the film also listed the three filmmakers as “missing, presumed dead” during the entire first year of the release. The “viralness” of the film created a lot of buzz that drove audiences to see the film–and discuss it.

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In The Blair Witch Project the mastermind was Heather Donahue who takes along two other film students, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams. They head to the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland to make a documentary film about the legend of the Blair Witch. Heather above all is the most passionate about this film and it can be easily read that filmmaking is her true calling. Heather demonstrates examples of some career takeaways that many people could consider themselves.

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Preparation is necessary. Before heading out to the forest, Heather and her crew spend some time interviewing people of the phenomenon and their opinions on what the true story is. She also seems to have done a lot of research and she was able to use that in the film. When it comes to our own careers and projects, making sure that everything is planned out ahead of time makes challenges seem more attainable.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. Doing this project alone the crew knew they were taking a big risk, yet they took it. They didn’t know if there was going to be nothing out there or exactly what they saw out there and they still went for it. Taking risks is what makes one’s calling exciting; taking the shot that everyone else is afraid of taking may make a huge difference in life.

No matter what, persevere. Throughout the film when things start going south the two men tend to yell at Heather for filming when they should more concerned about self-preservation. She declares that she must record as the film is all she has left. Perseverance is important–you should never give up on your passion, because you don’t know the outcome until you keep trying.

The whole production team of The Blair Witch Project used some of these same takeaways. Although they had a small budget, they used it to their fullest and used new and efficient ways to market a film. They weren’t afraid of the outcome; they just wanted to show their calling the best way they could.

The Blair Witch Project is a frightening yet thrilling adventure that everyone will love. Come join us at 7 pm October 31 for the University Theme Film Series: Careers, Conflicts, and Callings, Halloween edition.

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Shelbie Carson

Winona State University Creative Digital Media and Film Studies Major