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By Doug Brunell | September 27, 2007

“Cannibal Holocaust,” the notorious 1980 film directed by Ruggero Deodato that spawned “The Blair Witch Project,” asked a lot of important questions about the media. Chiefly, how far is it willing to go to get viewers, and how far are people willing to go to get fame? This was in an era well before reality television (which is “reality” in only the loosest definition of the term). Now that reality television is here, pushed ever closer to that “Cannibal Holocaust” level with shows like the late “Fear Factor,” it’s no surprise that reality television creators are starting to ask the same questions Deodato asked. Enter “American Cannibal.”

Cannibalism is a taboo that has been explored in reality shows before (notably the hidden camera show “Spy TV”), but it has not been the focus of a reality show. For Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts, two creators who want to make narrative films, a toss-off idea to a money man (Kevin Blatt) suddenly puts them on a beach with some contestants who thought they signed up for a show called “Starvation Island.” The idea is that they will be starved and tricked into thinking they will have to engage in cannibalism to survive. Naturally, television camera crews will be on hand the entire time to capture all the drama in this psychological torture.

This documentary quite successfully captures the problems involved in making a television show. Ripley and Roberts wanted to do “Virgin Territory,” a show where ten “medically certified” male virgins would be tempted with sex at every turn. One by one they would be “prematurely ejected,” with the winner getting to lose his virginity. When they pitched that to Blatt, who brought the world the Paris Hilton sex tape and an auction involving a surgically removed labia, he runs with it. Then the creators jokingly mention “American Cannibal,” and that’s so extreme that the pornographer wants to put his money behind that instead. Casting calls go wrong, and the entire thing eventually blows up in their faces as a challenge ends in tragedy.

While watching this thoroughly engaging movie, one can’t help but feel that maybe you are being played for a fool just a little bit (the actions at the end confirm this, too). In this era of “anything for fame,” you know this idea could take off, but did it? Is this a documentary or a mockumentary that raises serious social questions? Just the fact that there are questions proves one thing: The line between reality and fiction is so blurred now that almost anything seems possible. That’s the hypothesis/message of this film, and it proves it to be correct. That line is gone. People are willing to do anything for fame, and people are willing to film anything for ratings. Needless to say, there are plenty of people willing to watch it, too. Scary, or just part of human nature? Only time will tell.

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