By Louise Conway
This is a list of some of the stand-out films that have utilised the mockumentary format in different ways to create incredibly unique and creative films.
A mockumentary, uses the documentary style to document fictional events. It’s style naturally accounts to a relatively low budget, which allows filmmakers to produce niche films fairly uninterrupted by the major studios. Below is a list of some of the best films to adopt this mock-documentary style, varying greatly in their content. Although these films are not necessarily box-office hits, many mockumentaries go on to become celebrated cult masterpieces.
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
This film triumphs not only as a mock-rockumentary, but as a fantastically witty comedy. Rob Reiner has credited possibly one of the most quotable films to come out of the 80s. This is Spinal Tap will continue to set the bar for mockumentaries as it manages to satirise the subject matter of rock bands, but also the documentary film maker in unison. Over 30 years since its initial release, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must see, and if you have it’s a film that excels on repeated viewings.
2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
A more recent successful use of the mockumentary style comes from Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi who direct, write and star in the film (a practice not completely uncommon of this genre). When the 21st century saw an absurd amount of vampire movies, What We Do in the Shadows managed to make something completely unique and genuinely funny, playing on conventions to redefine the vampire characters to audiences. The film follows a group of vampires in their very domesticated everyday-lives, satirising all vampire connotations and conventions. However, it’s the brief appearance of a group of werewolves that produces some of the films greatest moments. Excitingly, there is a sequel, We’re Wolves, a follow-on film focusing on these characters, which is set to be another must-see.
3. The War Game (1965)
The War Game is an interesting addition to this list. As although it is a mockumentary, the film portrays an aftermath of a nuclear war in England in a sincere fashion. However, as the event never took place, it is fictional. Nonetheless, in 1967, The War Game and director/ writer Peter Watkins won an Oscar in the best documentary category. Demonstrating an incredible ability to create realism, an uncommon trait in the mockumentary genre.
The film was used as a practice to show how unprepared Britain was for what could be a devastating reality. As a result, the film contains truly horrifying moments, which delayed the films intended BBC broadcast in 1965 by twenty years until in 1985, The War Game was released in cinemas.
4. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
This is something of a cult chick-flick. The humour is dark, but undeniably funny, – it’s a film that has no desire to be taken seriously. The film is set in Minnesota as the small town hosts a beauty pageant as well as its own collection of extravagantly ludicrous characters. Who when competing against each other create serious laugh-out-loud moments. It is a film that needs to be seen to be appreciated as it thoroughly puts the mock in mockumentary.
5. CB4 (1993)
Before we had Straight Outta Compton (2015), CB4 provided a tongue-n-cheek account of a bands emergence, with uncanny similarity to NWA. Chris Rock stars as a wanna-be rapper, but is lacking in the gangster back-story, an on-going dig at the authenticity of ‘gangster rappers’. This is a true working of comedy, from a celebrated comedian that seems to have missed out on a lot of the recognition it deserves.
6. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This highy successful mockumentary screened at Raindance Film Festival.
Unlike the popular comedic take on the mockumentary. The Blair Witch Project uses the format to create truly terrifying moments. The content of the film is supposedly recovered footage from a group of young filmmakers making a documentary on the legend of the ‘Blair Witch’. The recovered, documented footage technique inspired many films, such as Cloverfield (2008) and Chronicle (2012), however The Blair Witch Project remains a success as it was believed to be true. The audiences fear comes from the belief they are watching real people, and from their own amateur footage, aided by the documentary style.
7. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
With a band as well known as The Beatles, there is no surprise they would be a subject for a mockumentary. Still known as widely today as in the 70’s, an audience can still appreciate the films clever little digs, brilliantly balancing detailed references to The Beatles true work against moments of complete, whirlwind fantasy. The Rutles are the subsequent invention of Eric Idle as he ridicules all they created. It is so satirical; you will find yourself questioning “could this film be anymore British?” Some of the most comedic moments come not from mocking the band itself, but the format of a historical of a TV documentary.
8. Best in Show (2000)
It is astonishing that such a funny film can come out of only 16 pages of script. Much of the film was improvised, resulting in 60 hours of footage being filmed. But what is left, are truly the best bits. Best in Show was dreamed up by Christopher Guest, who having written This is Spinal Tap, the mockumentary that all other comic mockumentaries are compared to had a tough task ahead. Best in Show follows five dogs and their individually quirky owners as they compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. A bit like Drop Dead Gorgeous, but with dogs.
9. Zelig (1983)
Woody Allen has an impressive body of work behind him so it is no surprise he has dabbled in the mockumentary genre. Zelig, an earlier work of Allen’s is made to seem as though it is a 1930’s documentary about a miraculous celebrity. (Allen also utilised the genres format for one of his earliest films, Take the Money and Run (1969) following an incapable bank robber.) Zelig uses a serious tone to present an utterly inconceivably fictions character, Leonard Zelig, the human chameleon. The film demonstrates the absolutely ridiculous characters you can make through mockumentaries.
Why not check out the excellent documentaries at the 24th Raindance Film Festival.