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The Last Broadcast

(1998) rated: nr

Director: Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler

Starring: David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, and Lance Weiler.

Synopsis: A mock documentary about what happened to the creators of a South Jersey cable access show titled "Fact or Fiction?" when they went into the Pine Barrens in search of the Jersey Devil. They planned on broadcasting their travels on cable and over the Internet. Four people entered the woods, but only one returned alive. He was Jim Suerd, who professed to be a psychic that could help the show. Suerd was found guilty of the murders in a trial that became a media event. However, the "director" of this documentary reconstructs all the evidence and is convinced that the real killer got away, meticulously planning the murders and framing Suerd.

Review: Before viewing this film, I had heard much discussion about the similarities between "The Blair Witch Project" and the lesser-known indie film "The Last Broadcast", and there are many. Both films examine the last moments of doomed expeditions by documentary filmmakers, presented in pseudo-documentary format, as a possible explanation of how the filmmaker's were killed.

"The Last Broadcast" has a more ambitious and sophisticated goal than Blair Witch, but it unfortunately does not live up to its ambition, though it does an admirable job. Those who have studied documentary filmmaking especially will get a kick out of the way information is manipulated through the use of direct address, interviews and the reflexive style of documentary filmmaking.

The film is densely constructed, meticulously faking mug shots, interviews, police reports, 911 tapes played over images of slowly turning tape recorder wheels, chat room printouts, newspaper columns, and home video footage among numerous other seemingly credible sources. All of these things make it seem like you are watching a real documentary about something that really happened.

This brings me to my first complaint, and that is that the film is presented in the style of a tabloid television segment. It makes the subject seem almost silly, less real, and in the end, all of the meticulous faking is thrown out the window because no one trusts the tabloids. The film does not suffer from this during the entire movie, but just enough to cast doubt.

This is not a horror film; indeed the Jersey Devil is only mentioned in passing. The film's real subject isn't murder, but how the media can distort the truth, and how science cannot always be trusted. This is a truly ambitious and praiseworthy subject, and this movie deserves a lot of respect for tackling such a noble task. The point is slammed home by the surprise ending, which serves its purpose well, but I found to be lacking. The ending of the film shows a jarring departure from the documentary format that was unneccessary and a step down for the sophistication of the film. I would have preferred a more subtle and refined ending in which the same thing happens, but in the same documentary format as the rest of the movie.

Don't get me wrong, this is an extremely well made movie with a great theme and it is very entertaining to watch. Beyond my two small complaints, there really isn't much that this movie is missing and I would still highly recommend the film. A very ambitious effort from a film made with modest means.

Did you notice:
• The obvious parrallels between the cable access show's title "Fact or Fiction?" and the themes of the film?

Did you notice:
• Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler put up a web site advertising their movie months before "Blair Witch" was shot (some think Blair Witch stole the idea, see the comparison link below)?
• "The Last Broadcast" was scrapped at the prestigious Cannes film festival in favor of showing "Blair Witch"?

• Have you ever seen or had a Cable Access television program? If so, was it as bad as "Fact or Fiction?"?
• Do you think that Blair Witch stole Last Broadcast's idea?
• Do you think that The Blair Witch Project was a better movie? Why or Why not?
• Can the media, lawyers, or science manipulate information so badly that an innocent man is sent to prison? (watch brilliant documentary "The Thin Blue Line" if you are not convinced)
• Do you believe the tabloid style detracts from the movie? Is it really a tabloid style?
• Did you like the way in which the ending's format changed?

Comparison between Blair Witch and Last Broadcast
The Last Broadcast (official site)
Last Broadcast, The (IMDB page)

The Blair Witch Project (review)
The Thin Blue Line (imdb)

The Store:
The Last Broadcast (VHS)
The Last Broadcast (VHS) : letterboxed
The Last Broadcast (DVD)

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