Mock Documentaries Essay

2234 words - 9 pages

Mockumentary: The Genre of False Documentary


A mock documentary is successful when it is able to combine both the appearance of historically accurate elements and present believable situations through a false lens, leading the audience to question the reality of what they are seeing. The genre of false documentary aims to present a convincing story through the use of credible documentary tactics to portray a "fictional documentary." Every mock documentary depends on its viewers believing its premise. The illusion of believability is most often either confirmed or destroyed by the credits. Frequently the audience first learns the people on the screen were actors, and that they have fallen prey to the thick veil of believability that documentary films are so able to portray. To capture the audiences trust directors of mock documentary films apply many of the tactics and conventions Mock documentaries serve to leave the audience questioning the reality and believability of what they view in the theatre and at home. The mock documentary can be both real and fake, both shocking and humorous, both projected and actual.

The origin of the mockumentary ranges back to the very beginning of film. The mock documentary as a genre owes a great deal to both fiction and nonfiction films. But, since a mockumentary adopts the formal behavior of a documentary it asserts a sense of believability. In the late twentieth century documentary films used an element of fakery to add to the plausibility of the footage. War scenes were also depicted by cardboard cutouts of boats and often staged in backyard lagoons. In Robert Flaherty's 1922 film, Nanook of the North, Eskimo life was supposed to be shown as it existed without influence. However, this film which was supposed to depict how Eskimos really lived was heavily shaped by Flaherty, and wound up being a documentary of how Eskimos lived when a camera was in their midst. These instances of falsity are the predecessors of the mockumentary genre, though they serve very different purposes. The false images in the early films were used to provide authenticity; fake scenes were used to include the action and events that the camera was unable to capture to add to the credibility of their footage. When the camera was unable to physically be there and obtain the actual footage, or when the film didn't turn out the way the documentarians wanted they would simply use false footage to make up for what was lost. The premise was if the audience was able to see even a re-enactment, they would be more apt to believe that it actually occurred. The goal of the mockumentary is not to enhance credibility but to explicitly question the believability of what the audience is viewing. While many of these early documentary films used fakery to add to the realism the directors were trying to portray, mock documentaries are set up to look as realistic as possible both to trick the audience, and also to challenge them to...

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