A mockumentary (a portmanteau of mock and documentary) or docucomedy is a type of film or television show depicting fictional events but presented as a documentary.
These productions are often used to analyze or comment on current events and issues by using a fictional setting, or to parody the documentary form itself.While mockumentaries are usually comedic, pseudo-documentaries are their dramatic equivalents. However, pseudo-documentary should not be confused with docudrama, a fictional genre in which dramatic techniques are combined with documentary elements to depict real events. Also, docudrama is different from docufiction; a genre in which documentaries are contaminated with fictional elements.
Mockumentaries are often presented as historical documentaries, with B roll and talking heads discussing past events, or as cinéma vérité pieces following people as they go through various events. Examples emerged during the 1950s when archival film footage became available.A very early example was a short piece on the "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest" that appeared as an April Fools' prank on the British television program Panorama in 1957.
The term "mockumentary", which originated in the 1960s, was popularized in the mid-1980s when This Is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner used it in interviews to describe that film.
Mockumentaries are often partly or wholly improvised, as an unscripted style of acting helps to maintain the pretense of reality. Comedic mockumentaries rarely have laugh tracks, also to sustain the atmosphere, although exceptions exist.
Music "is often employed to expose the ambiguities and fallacies of conventional storytelling; for instance by pointing at the paradoxes of the distinction between diegetic and extradiegetic music".
Early work, including Luis Buñuel's 1933 Land Without Bread ,Orson Welles's 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds , various April Fools' Day news reports, and vérité-style film and television during the 1960s and 1970s, served as precursor to the genre. Early examples of mock-documentaries include The Connection (1961), A Hard Day's Night (1964), David Holzman's Diary (1967), Pat Paulsen for President (1968), Take the Money and Run (1969), The Clowns (1970), by Federico Fellini (a peculiar hybrid of documentary and fiction, a docufiction), Smile (1975) and All You Need Is Cash (1978). Albert Brooks was also an early popularizer of the mockumentary style with his film Real Life , 1979, a spoof of the 1973 reality television series An American Family . Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run is presented in documentary-style with Allen playing a fictional criminal, Virgil Starkwell, whose crime exploits are "explored" throughout the film. Jackson Beck, who used to narrate documentaries in the 1940s, provides the voice-over narration. Fictional interviews are interspliced throughout, especially those of Starkwell's parents who wear Groucho Marx noses and mustaches. The style of this film was widely appropriated by others and revisited by Allen himself in films such as Zelig (1983) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
Early use of the mockumentary format in television comedy may be seen in several sketches from Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–1974), such as "Hell's Grannies", "Piranha Brothers", and "The Funniest Joke in the World". The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour (1970–1971) also featured mockumentary pieces which interspersed both scripted and real-life man-in-the-street interviews, the most famous likely being "The Puck Crisis" in which hockey pucks were claimed to have become infected with a form of Dutch elm disease.
All You Need Is Cash , developed from an early series of sketches in the comedy series Rutland Weekend Television , is a 1978 television film in mockumentary style about The Rutles , a fictional band that parodies The Beatles . The Beatles own 1964 feature film debut, A Hard Day's Night , was itself filmed in mockumentary style: it ostensibly documents a few typical (and highly fictionalized) days in the life of the band as they travel from Liverpool to London for a television appearance.
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Since the beginning of the 1980s, the mockumentary format has gained considerable attention. The 1980 South African film The Gods Must be Crazy (along with its 1989 sequel) is presented in the manner of a nature documentary, with documentary narrator Paddy O'Byrne describing the events of the film in the manner of a biologist or anthropologist presenting scientific knowledge to viewers. In 1982, The Atomic Cafe is a Cold-War era American "mockumentary" film that made use of archival government footage from the 1950s.Woody Allen's 1983 film Zelig stars Allen as a curiously nondescript enigma who is discovered for his remarkable ability to transform himself to resemble anyone he is near, and Allen is edited into historical archive footage. In 1984, Christopher Guest co-wrote and starred in the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap , directed by Rob Reiner. Guest went on to write and direct other mockumentaries including Waiting for Guffman , Best in Show , and A Mighty Wind , all written with costar Eugene Levy.
In Central Europe, the first time viewers were exposed to mockumentary was in 1988 when the Czechslovakian short film "Oil Gobblers" was shown. For two weeks, TV viewers believed that the oil-eating animals really existed.
Tim Robbins' 1992 film Bob Roberts was a mockumentary centered around the senatorial campaign of a right-wing stock trader and folksinger, and the unsavory connections and dirty tricks used to defeat a long-term liberal incumbent played by Gore Vidal. Man Bites Dog is a 1992 Belgian black comedy crime mockumentary written, produced, and directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde. In 1995, Peter Jackson and Costa Botes directed Forgotten Silver , which claimed New Zealand "director" Colin McKenzie was a pioneer in filmmaking.When the film was later revealed to be a mockumentary, Jackson received criticism for tricking viewers.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a controversial yet successful film from 2006 which uses this style, as does Brüno , a similar film from 2009. Sony Pictures Animation released their second animated feature, Surf's Up in 2007, which was the first of its kind to incorporate the mockumentary style into animation. REC , a 2007 Spanish film by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, uses journalism aesthetics to approach a horror universe set up in a real building in Barcelona. The film was remade in the United States as the 2008 film Quarantine.
In television, the most notable mockumentaries in the 2000s have been ABC Australia's The Games (1998–2000), the Canadian series Trailer Park Boys (2001–present), the British shows Marion and Geoff (2000), Twenty Twelve (2011–2012) (which follows the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission in the run-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics), and W1A , which follows the main characters of Twenty Twelve as they start work at the BBC, as well as The Office (2001) and its many international offshoots, and Come Fly with Me (2010), which follows the activity at a fictional airport and its variety of staff and passengers. British comedy duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French often presented short mockumentaries as extended sketches in their TV show French & Saunders . Discovery Channel opened its annual Shark Week on 4 Aug 2013 with Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives , a mockumentary about the survival of the megalodon. Popular examples in the US include sitcoms Trailer Park Boys and its films (1998–present), Parks and Recreation (2009–2015), The Office (2005-2013), Arrested Development (2003–2019), and Modern Family (2009–2020); the American improv comedy Reno 911! (2003–2009); the comedy series The Muppets (2015); Derek (2012–2014); People Just Do Nothing (2011–2018) and the Australian Chris Lilley shows Angry Boys , Summer Heights High , We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year , Ja'mie: Private School Girl , Jonah from Tonga and Lunatics .
The series Documentary Now! (2015–present) on IFC, created by Saturday Night Live alumni, spoofs celebrated documentary films by parodying the style and subject of each documentary. Hight argues that television is a natural medium for a mockumentary, as it provides "for extraordinarily rich sources of appropriation and commentary".
The BBC series People Like Us was first produced for radio in 1995 before a television version was made in 1999. Kay Stonham's Audio Diaries was a similarly short-lived radio mockumentary that premiered the year after People Like Us's run on Radio 4 ended.
Forgotten Silver is a 1995 New Zealand mockumentary film that purports to tell the story of a pioneering New Zealand filmmaker. It was written and directed by Peter Jackson and Costa Botes, both of whom appear in the film in their roles as makers of the documentary.
A docudrama is a genre of radio and television programming, feature film, and staged theatre, which features dramatized re-enactments of actual events. On stage, it is sometimes known as documentary theatre.
Cinéma vérité is a style of documentary filmmaking, invented by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda. It combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.
Dark Side of the Moon is a French mockumentary by director William Karel. It originally aired on the Franco-German television network Arte in 2002 with the title Opération Lune.
F for Fake is a 1973 docudrama film co-written, directed by, and starring Orson Welles who worked on the film alongside François Reichenbach, Oja Kodar, and Gary Graver. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Far from serving as a traditional documentary on de Hory, the film also incorporates Welles's companion Oja Kodar, notorious "hoax-biographer" Clifford Irving, and Orson Welles as himself. F for Fake is sometimes considered an example of a film essay.
A recurring theme in the literary, theatrical and film tradition of comedy is the use of stock characters representing authority figures, designed to poke fun at officialdom by showing that its members are not immune to entanglement in the ridiculous. This is an old tradition, well illustrated in works such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Voltaire's Candide. This practice arises in part from the desire of those subject to the power of those in authority to use an available means of limiting this power by demonstrating that the authority figure is just as subject to mockery as those lacking power. This represents "the attempt to use aggression to protect oneself from engulfment, impingement or humiliation by diminishing the perceived power and threat of the other", an effort which often takes the form of caricature of those in authority.
A semidocumentary is a form of book, film, or television program presenting a fictional story that incorporates many factual details or actual events, or which is presented in a manner similar to a documentary. Stylistically, it has certain similarities to Italian Neorealism, such as the use of location shooting and employing non-actors in secondary roles. However, the viewer is not intended to mistake a semidocumentary for a real documentary; the fictional elements are too prominent.
Craig Baldwin is an American experimental filmmaker. He uses found footage from the fringes of popular consciousness as well as images from the mass media to undermine and transform the traditional documentary, infusing it with the energy of high-speed montage and a provocative commentary that targets subjects from intellectual property rights to rampant consumerism.
A pseudo-documentary is a film or video production that takes the form or style of a documentary film but does not portray real events. Rather, scripted and fictional elements are used to tell the story. The pseudo-documentary, unlike the related mockumentary, is not always intended as satire or humor. It may use documentary camera techniques but with fabricated sets, actors, or situations, and it may use digital effects to alter the filmed scene or even create a wholly synthetic scene.
Contest Searchlight is a four-episode fictional comedy television series that aired in 2002 on the Comedy Central network. It was a documentary-style parody or mockumentary of the HBO network's non-fictional series Project Greenlight.
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is a pseudo-documentary horror film directed by Dean Alioto. It is a larger-budget version of The McPherson Tape, and originally aired on UPN on January 18, 1998. Kristian Ayre plays Tommy, a teenager in Lake County, Montana, who is making a home movie of his family's Thanksgiving dinner when they are attacked and ultimately abducted by extraterrestrials.
In filmmaking, found footage is the use of footage as a found object, appropriated for use in collage films, documentary films, mockumentary films and other works.
The Police Tapes is a 1977 documentary about a New York City police precinct in the South Bronx. The original ran ninety minutes and was produced for public television; a one-hour version later aired on ABC.
Docufiction, often confused with docudrama, is the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction, this term often meaning narrative film. It is a film genre which attempts to capture reality such as it is and which simultaneously introduces unreal elements or fictional situations in narrative in order to strengthen the representation of reality using some kind of artistic expression.
Norbert Smith: A Life, also released as Sir Norbert Smith: A Life, is a 1989 mockumentary television film, charting the life and career of the fictitious British actor Sir Norbert Smith. It stars Harry Enfield in the title role. It was written by Harry Enfield and Geoffrey Perkins and directed by Geoff Posner.
Found footage is a film subgenre in which all or a substantial part of the work is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time, off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were "raw" and complete or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who "found" it.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives is a 2013 film purported as a documentary by the Discovery Channel, about the potential survival of the prehistoric shark. The story revolves numerous videos, photographs, and firsthand encounters with megalodon, and an ensuing investigation that points to the involvement of the prehistoric species, despite the long-held belief of it's extinction. The film is presented as a factual documentary that includes accounts of "professionals" in various fields such as Marine Biology. Soon after the film premiered however, the "documentary" was swiftly debunked as a fictional production with actors posing as scientists, accompanied by "evidence" which was completely manufactured. It wasn't until public outrage had followed that the network was forced to add brief disclaimers at the beginning and end, indicating the program is in fact fictional.
The Great Martian War 1913–1917 is a 2013 Canadian/UK made-for-television science fiction docudrama film, produced by Michael Kot, Steve Maher, and Mike Slee, and also directed by Slee, that unfolds in the style of an episode from the History TV Channel.
Straddling the fence between surrealism and pop culture is this eccentric "mockumentary," subsumed entirely by stock footage from the height of the Cold War. "The Atomic Café" is pieced together with a certain clairvoyant vision that captivates and inspires as the seamless fluency of the film builds to a denouement. In the same neighborhood as "Dr. Strangelove," this cynically festive mock-serious piece /../ Because the documentary is just that, fashioned entirely out of a seamless montage of newsreel footage, government archives, and military training films, the movie itself is just a deadpan reflection of history's charade executed with an assertive wry humor that makes us question the sanity of Cold War politics.