"American Cannibal" and Reality TV

Claire Faggioli June 22, 2007

“American Cannibal” documents two down on their luck television writers, Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts, as they sell their souls to the reality television circuit. When Roberts and Ripley jokingly pitch their idea for “American Cannibal,” in which six contestants, trapped on an island without food, are led to believe they must eat each other to survive, Paris Hilton Sex Tape promoter Kevin Blatt sets in motion a production train-wreck just waiting to happen, which of course it does. The film eventually proves that life imitates art, as the films itself feels a bit like a reality television show. As the filmmakers decry our obsession with watching people torture themselves for their 15 minutes of fame, they clearly have no qualms showing the painful and dramatic decay between Ripley and Roberts. These two seem perfectly cast for a fall-out; Ripley, with his Super 8mm camera at his side, is set apart early as the man with integrity and artistic vision, while Roberts, desperate to provide for his family, comes off as the man willing to sell it all to make a buck. What seems like a great writing relationship in the beginning degrades with the introduction of reality — television, that is. Once production begins, and their rationalizing ceases, the writers expectedly slip into their established characters and a friendship withers, all caught on camera for viewers to lament and enjoy. The film has gotten plenty of press — celebratory, and skeptical — including a few minutes with Dr. Phil himself. A few highlights are here collected with the help of the filmmakers for your dining pleasure. The film opens this weekend at the Red Vic.

1. New York Times
Stephen Holden: “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”

2. The Onion
Noel Murray: “It’s hard to deny the sickly feeling that arises while watching two smart, well-meaning guys sell their souls.”

3. MTV
Kurt Loder: “Leading us down into the lowest depths of the reality-TV industry, that bog of veiled sadism and voyeuristic obsession into which it seems our entire entertainment culture is being sucked, this 91-minute documentary is by turns funny, pathetic and appalling.”

4. Huffington Post
Tobi Elkin: “Eventually, the selected contestants are flown to the island where they party down until they are abruptly awakened at 3 a.m. to start the twisted adventure. They arrive on the island set exhausted, broken, and hungry — one having puked her guts out crossing the choppy seas to the beachfront set.”

5. TimeOut New York
Joshua Rothkopf: “Ever since its Tribeca debut, this witty, well-made indie, about a pair of ambitious writers (Ripley and Roberts) who successfully pitch a ‘Survivor’-style contest that ends gruesomely on location, has been plagued by questions of veracity.”

6. Papermag
Dennis Dermody: “An acid commentary on the appalling reality-TV phenomenon, this is also a heart-wrenching story of two friends whose stupid show blows up in their faces, and it makes for sensational drama. That’s the kind of reality I love.”

7. LA Times
Michael Ordoña: “Audiences probably often wonder when the reality genre is finally going to eat itself. “American Cannibal” stands ready for that moment with a bib and vinegar.”

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