There are no two words that catch my eye more quickly than “Taco Bell.” Driving down the highway? A Taco Bell billboard will make me pull over. Strolling through the grocery store? I’ll stare at those Taco Bell hot sauce bottles for hours. Playing Wordle? Listen, the word has to be either “tacos” or “bells” eventually, right? So of course, no mention of the beloved chain on Twitter, a platform on which I spend approximately 20 hours a day, would get past me. That’s where I first heard of the Taco Bell Film Festival 2022.
@tbfilmfest is a modest account, with only 96 followers as of publication. The bio simply reads: “Taco Bell Film Festival 2022 presented by Delta Airlines — Live Más.” At first glance, there’s no reason to think this wouldn’t be the inkling of an official Taco Bell sanctioned promotion, especially with recent news that the brand will be enlisting fans to create its next cinematic Nacho Fries ad, as reported by AdWeek. Even the first tweet that came across my timeline seemed pretty legit:
But soon after following the account to keep tabs, I had questions. First of all, it seemed unlikely that a film festival run by one of the biggest brands in the world would have a Gmail account for collecting submissions. Second, the next tweet sent with information about the festival was… extreme. “Discount Alert, For a limited time, Taco Bell Film Festival Premium Badges are available for $2300, which includes, VIP Access to Exclusive Zoom Calls With Industry Pros, Unlimited Streaming of most TBFF 2021 [sic] films, 50% OFF YOUR NEXT $2 BURRITO,” it reads, with no link to any more information. And while a quick Google search did bring up a link to a blog on Taco Bell’s website about “Living Más through film,” the vibes were, well, very different.
The Taco Bell Film Festival 2022 isn’t just another soulless fast food promotion. No, it appears to be so much more, something even better, some kind of rogue and zany creative project inspired by one of the most galvanizing fast food joints out there.
This isn’t the first time Chalupas and Crunchwraps have influenced unauthorized art. Back in August 2019, The Taco Bell Quarterly literary magazine launched its first issue and has been going strong ever since. The mag’s Twitter account is filled with advice for writers, hilarious quips, and lots and lots of digs at The Paris Review—@theparisreview on TikTok is actually a page for TBQ. Run by writer MM Carrigan, the literary magazine not only solicits submissions of all kinds, but pays artists for their work. The guidelines read:
We pay $50 per acceptance: stories, art, comics, multimedia, flash, poetry, nonfiction, whatever you got. Don’t ask. The answer is Yes, send it.
Themes: trash discourse, capitalism, humanizing the hellscape, fast food joy, fast food depression, spooky gayness, scaring people with Baja Blast metaphors, sacks of sopping wet meat, work, sweat, sad pizza parties in the breakroom, love, sex, and more. The answer is Yes, send it.
The Taco Bell Film Festival 2022, on the other hand, has no real clear guidelines or direction besides a submission deadline, January 31, and an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. “Do You Think You Have What It Takes To Make A Taco Bell Film?” one Tweet reads. “Do You Know What It Means To Make A Taco Bell Film?” The other TBFF2022 sites I could find—a Twitch page, an Instagram, and a sister Instagram for the Taco Bell Film Institute—left me with more questions than answers. I emailed those questions to the above Gmail account and could have never anticipated what I would get in return.
Whoever is behind this festival has a lot of time, a lot of resources, and a lot of archival Taco Bell footage at the ready. That much is clear in this 4:33 video that was customized just for me. (Other journalists who may have reached out, I need to know if you got a similar response or if I’m special.)
The video is worthy of its own Adult Swim special, with a man who in my later correspondence with TBFF is identified as “Banjo” answering my questions one by one, spliced together with close-ups of shredded cheese and clips of the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” dog. Some answers that “Banjo” provides are more helpful than others, most specifically the detail that there will be an actual screening of the films on Twitch. (In a follow-up email I’m told that will take place February 25-27.)
Some answers may take a little bit more decoding. When I asked, “What does making a Taco Bell film mean to you?” Banjo replied, “Well Brianna, this is a question. A Taco Bell film means to me anything that a Taco Bell film is submitted to the festival of a Taco Bell submission. Now a Taco Bell? That’s what a Taco Bell film means to YOU.” The whole thing is, in a word, genius.
I tried to dig a little deeper to figure out the mastermind(s) behind the festival, looking into mutuals who follow or are followed by either social media account. A friend pointed out that the work seemed reminiscent of that of my downstairs neighbor who was indeed being followed by the account on Instagram, begging the question: Was this all actually happening literally under my nose? I texted them to see if they knew about the Taco Bell Film Festival, and they responded “HAHAHAH yes i do!!! wait that’s hilarious.”
My neighbor shared a story with me about someone who they met in LA a few years back, a man who was apparently outside the Venice Beach Taco Bell amazing crowds by accurately guessing people’s orders, a man who always dreamed of being an action movie star, a man whose dad used to manage a Taco Bell that was eventually demolished and turned into a cineplex in the early aughts, which soured that man’s view of the film industry. This film festival, my neighbor told me, was his way of reckoning with his complicated relationship with both Taco Bell and cinema.
After the harrowing tale all sunk in, my neighbor, also a comedian and performance artist and filmmaker, admitted to me that the whole story was a bit. “You actually know who’s behind this don’t you?” They gave me a mischievous grin and a shrug, telling me they couldn’t say anything else.
I explicitly asked the person on the other end of the email address if they would reveal their identity. They responded only with the official description of Yum! Brands, Inc., Taco Bell’s parent company.
I stopped digging there, deciding it’s better actually to maintain the mystery. First of all, I’m no snitch. I’m even slightly nervous that running this piece at all will draw unwanted attention from the higher ups at Taco Bell, and I don’t want to dox a fellow Cheesy Gordita Crunch lover. If I never find out who’s actually behind this, then it can be anyone. Maybe it really is my downstairs neighbor, who’s using our shared space to create this brilliant art. Maybe it’s Banjo, hiding in plain sight as the fest’s unofficial spokesperson. In each and every person on this Earth lives the potential to be the creator of the next great artistic Taco Bell pursuit, and that is a beautiful thing.
Submissions to the Taco Bell Film Festival 2022 are open through January 31, 2022, just email your video to email@example.com. The festival will stream at Twitch.com/tacobellfilmfestival February 25-27. For more information keep an eye on @tbfilmfest on Twitter and @taco_bell_film_festival on Instagram.
Live Más in 2022.