If you’ve seen Lor’s previous write-up of Block 3 and the festival highlights of 2021’s virtual Unnamed Footage Festival, you probably already know that both of us had a ton of fun attending, watching, and reacting to the many strange sights this 24-hour livestream had to show us. Just as they did, I wound up sticking around for most of the festival even after the block I volunteered to cover, and even though there were some absolute gems later on (such as the skater-punk crime drama faux-documentary Poser and the descent into conspiratorial madness that is Murder Death Koreatown), I can safely say Block 2 contained some of my favorites of the entire stream.
For some context, Unnamed Footage Festival (or “UFF”) is a usually-in-person festival that’s been running since 2018, boasting itself as the first festival in the USA dedicated entirely to found-footage, faux documentary, and point-of-view movies. In keeping with their sense of humor and unwillingness to let themselves be shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 incarnation of the festival took the form of an unending livestream that attendees could hop in and out of at any time and chat with each other throughout. Though advertised as a 24-hour event, the stream wound up running 28 hours with a virtual afterparty (where I got the chance to meet some of the filmmakers!), leaving everyone exhausted—even me, who took a break mid-stream to get six hours of sleep. Thankfully, Block 2 began at 8 PM my time, and I was fully conscious for everything, which I’m glad for since there was never a dull or terrible moment throughout.
There were two features and several shorts in this block, and when you set the bar as high as Gillian Wallace Horvat’s debut feature I Blame Society did, you know you’re in for a fun time. In this film, Horvat portrays a more unhinged version of herself as she takes a compliment from her friends way too much to heart and sets out to document her descent from aspiring filmmaker to aspiring serial killer. It stands out from other “snuff film” mockumentaries in its dark sense of humor, the amount of people that play themselves (co-writer and John Dies at the End star Chase Williamson is a major part of the story), and Horvat’s strangely sympathetic performance. By the end, I found myself hoping for her to get away with everything, which is probably bad, but I don’t have any regrets over it. In more ways than one, this is a picture of someone making the exact film she wants to make, both in and out of character, and I cannot recommend it enough.
The block’s second feature and final film, 1974: La posesión de Altair, was mind-blowingly good in its own right. It’s a period horror piece shot on 8mm film and set in the titular 1970s, following a newly married Mexican couple as they grapple with the realization that one of them might be possessed. Quite a bit of this film feels predictable, but the commitment to realism and the incredible production design manage to lift it higher than most—and when the third act story beats started to hit, it completely threw me for a loop. It’s entertaining, it’s spooky, and it gripped me in a way many films don’t. Seek this one out if you get the chance.
Unnamed Footage Festival is full of quicker bites of terror and weirdness between its features, and every short in this block was also top-tier. I’ve been a huge fan of Brian David Gilbert‘s online video game comedy work with Polygon and his previous comedy-horror blends, but seeing his latest purely horror short Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan ’97 (co-written with Karen Han) in this block was an absolute joy. The short deals with memory and grief as the titular Jake watches a VHS tape of his father over and over again, the footage changing every time and escalating from subtly unsettling shifts into full-blown terror by the final couple of loops. Zeke Farrow’s Possessions was also included in this block—it begins as a document of Zeke’s art project in which he sells everything he owns for a dollar each, but takes a sharp turn into horror when one of his friends purchases an object that may or may not carry a curse with it. The horror twist surprised everyone in the chat since we were all expecting the short to be an actual documentary and were pleasantly shocked with the title’s double meaning.
Two entries from documentary filmmaker Michael Arcos (who showed up in the festival chat later on, might I add) rounded Block 2 out—a premiere of Paloma’s Pit, which combines animation and spy-camera footage as it follows a couple interrogating a local dog owner whose dog killed their cat, and a showing of Valerio’s Day Out, a film I’d seen a couple of times before and loved. Valerio retells the story of a jaguar who escaped his cage and killed several animals before being sedated and returned, narrated from his own perspective as he justifies his actions and dispassionately describes why he killed who he did. Arcos is an excellent documentarian, combining infographics and stock footage with offbeat narration to tell true stories in new and fascinating ways, and seeing Paloma’s Pit together with my favorite of his makes me excited to see what he does next.
Overall, Unnamed Footage Festival’s second block was easily my favorite of the festival, especially considering I didn’t have to stay up very late to catch all of it. Both features were excellent, the shorts were unsettlingly fun, and the experience of hanging out with the viewers in the stream chat was just the icing on the cake. I’m already looking forward to next year (maybe I’ll even try to make a short I can submit? Who knows!), and I highly recommend everything I’ve mentioned. Do yourself a favor and check them all out (I’ve linked everything I can above), and make sure to support UFF’s GoFundMe for helping independent theaters during the pandemic! Hope to see you all there next year.