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Mockumentaries: Slice Of Reality On Screen

What is it? Where did it come from? Examples? Recommendations…

“It is through that discomfort that we, as both audience and subject, reflect on our norms, values, ideologies, and ways of being.”

Miller, Too Bold for the Box Office: The Mockumentary from Big Screen to Small

We have always stumbled upon this question of what do films/series provide to the human race?

What motivates the effort, money, time, and hard work into producing hours of footage?

Why is it for the viewer to watch and ‘enjoy’?

Do they represent reality or give us a moment of escapism?

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Are they real or orchestrated lies, put together efficiently?

With this increasing number of questions, we have generated many genres of films. As a result, we created the genre of Mockumentaries.

“Mockumentary” is a genre of film that presents you with the hard-hitting reality of life. But with a slice of humor, prompting us to laugh at the truth.

Maybe, so that we don’t weep after it!

What Are Mockumentaries?

Mockumentary has been around us for more than half a century now.

Mockumentaries came as a combination of ‘mock’ and ‘documentary.’

The term implies exactly what it is: A mocking version of real-life events put together as a documentary.

It has been observed that mockumentaries often work on the exaggerated premise of a real-life event, using humor as a driving theme.

There is a stark difference from what a documentary ideally is. In mockumentaries, there are scripts that underline the story’s crux. People in it are allowed to improvise. Almost every time, people part of such shows play their real-life self, in their everyday scenarios.

In simple words, a mockumentary is a scripted comedic version of reality.

It makes the viewing experience comedic and often thought-provoking. When you don the cynical lens of your everyday life, you come out with a mockumentary.

But, do you know where mockumentaries came about?

Let’s have a look at it!

History of Mockumentary

In mainstream popular culture, it is believed that mockumentary began with Rob Reiner’s ‘This is Spinal Tap‘ in 1984.

However, the genre’s inception started decades before 1984.

The first mockumentary could be traced back to the late 1930s. Even before pop culture, wizards coined the genre a name.

War of the Worlds – 1938 Radio Incident

In 1938, Orson Welles read out an excerpt from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in his English radio show. He read it out as a news report.

His performance and format made people believe that a genocidal martian army was invading the Earth. The show also broadcasted a disclaimer before the show began. But alas, people had missed it or did not pay attention to it.

This led to an apparent commotion. The authorities reached the CBS newsrooms, and the broadcast was attempted to shut down.

The reasons stated were that show was creating public unrest and disorder.

Orson Welles
Orson Welles

Seeds of Mockumentaries

It is also argued that the history of that incident created much more hysteria than we could imagine. It also reflects how facts or even fiction presented without proper disclaimers can cause a ruckus in cities.

This is also stemmed from the fact that reality is rooted in a lot more discomfort than we think. And that’s where the seeds of mockumentaries were sown.

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After this, the following decades increased satire and fiction meets the fact genre of print and visual artforms. It became a widely accepted art form. April Fools’ pranks became popular.

Orson Welles sowed the seeds of mockumentaries.

Every year, the media had new versions of fiction presented as facts for the viewer. The Spaghetti Tree hoax is a notable ‘prank’ on this list. The hoax happened in 1957 on BBC’s current affairs program.

A three-minute clip where a family from Switzerland was shown harvesting spaghetti from the family’s Spaghetti Tree. This was made as the British were not very aware of Spaghetti and its origin.

Later came ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ which was a satirical take on the mass of Beatles’ fans who gave an insight into the band’s everyday life. The film became one of the biggest musical films and had an impactful legacy for music films ever since.

In the aftermath of A Hard Day’s Night, we had a series of mockumentaries spread across the following decades. Some memorable films in this list are Paul Paulson for President (1968), Woody Allen’s Take the Money (1963), and Zelig in 1983.

Woody Allen helped in exploring and bringing in new dimensions to this form of filmmaking. However, Rob popularised the term, while he used it in the interviews to promote, This is Spinal Tap.

From here, the genre of mockumentaries flourished, and we have had a list of many movies and shows being produced in the same genre.

With time, we have had mockumentaries taking center stage. The OTT invention making it easy for multiple parodies and satires to coexist in the same place.

‘M’ for Mockumentaries, ‘M’ for Myths

We will look at some of the best-made mockumentaries for you to watch and enjoy later in the article before let us bust some myths around this genre.

Not A Pseudo-Documentary

If you thought that documentaries are a stand-alone genre, you’re mistaken, my friend. The documentary is a massive realm of the genre, which has many subcategories.

Some of these includes:

  1. docu-fiction,
  2. pseudo-documentary,
  3. docudrama, and of course,
  4. mockumentaries

Here is a quick look at what each of these means:

1. Docu-Fiction

In docu-fiction, the show is shot like a documentary. At the same time, there are elements of fiction involved and might also not depict any reality.

Only the style of filmmaking is borrowed from documentaries.

Here, the real-life events are captured.

The actors portray a highly fictionalized version of themselves.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians

To some extent, we can consider shows like ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ falling slightly in this genre of filmmaking. But minus the severe nature of this genre.

2. Docudrama

Docudrama might seem similar to docufiction. However, both of them are different.

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Here, in this scenario, the film is shot after the actual event has taken place. The situations are dramatized while the basic storyline is kept historically factual.

The primary difference is this is not filmed in real-time.

This drama is particularly added to make the show more engaging and keep the viewers glued to the show.

Chernobyl is an example of Docudrama.

Did you think of this while you were watching it?

Maybe, you should rewatch it to get a new perspective!

3. Pseudo-Documentary

The pseudo-documentary also follows the narrative style of documentaries. But does not present actual events.

The camera techniques employed resemble the documentaries.

However, this genre is entirely fiction and has nothing to do with real-life events.

The video above is an example of a pure pseudo-documentary for you to get an idea of.

The genre of reality shows falls under this particular genre, where the shows are scripted and acted.

However, it is presented as reality.

What reality show do you think fits this bill the most?

Out of all this, there is one similarity that comes across to us. One, all of the above-stated genres are shot as documentaries. On the surface level, it might seem that there is no difference.

When you dig deeper, we get to know how they differ.

However, the most significant distinction that all these forms have with mockumentary is that none are driven by humor and satire.

Yes, the primary tool employed in mockumentaries is that they are a satirical take.

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Without that, maybe, it isn’t a mockumentary!

The Art of Satire

Mockumentaries delve deeper into the art of satire.

In comparison, we all know that comedy is one of the most important emotions of our life.

Doing comedy is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish in the media world. But, satire takes the difficulty a notch up.

Satire is a weapon that could be used to create awareness among people. It shows you the reality and makes it easy for you to accept.

Satire is the layer of coating that is required for you to feel good about the sad reality of life.

It exaggerates problems to such an extent that you are forced to question the absurdity at hand.

While you walk through the mirage of questions, analyzing each layer, you reach the truth. Because, well, truth is indigestible in its rawest form. Which we often look away from. We are scared of it, but satire makes us ease up to it.

While, yes, news employs some satire too. But mockumentaries bluff with you.

They force you into analyzing the futile observations and coming to an understanding of them with nuance.

Sitcoms Reinvented the Genre of Mockumentaries

Mockumentaries have shifted forms ever since. 

Now, they have taken new shapes of how they might be viewed. The name originated with a narrative style of documentaries.

However, now new forms of filmmaking have taken over the idea of mockumentaries and have produced the genre of sitcoms. With this, satire has become more available during prime time television.

Our favorite shows like The Office, Modern Family, Schitt’s Creek are all from this school of films. Where a simple, everyday premise is exaggerated to give you a comedic relief, yet present to you the reality as it is.

However, it is also necessary to note that not all forms of sitcoms are part of mockumentaries. Shows that depict relatable middle-class life but with a spice of satire.

That is why you would notice, these shows do not have very serious conflict points, like a cop going out to take down the serial murderers in town. But, they have simple, realistic problems where you can find a piece of yourself in.

The situation is so exaggerated that you are prompted to laugh at things that once seemed the end of the world. Because we see the absurdity of our everyday life play in real-time.

The days of stereotypical comedy have been taken over by witty satires that the audience is getting more accustomed to.

However, although these shows do not follow the narrative structure of a mockumentary, this is also one of the present-day, evolved forms of the genre.

Phew! We have spoken so much about mockumentaries and the science of making mockumentaries. Let me breathe. Sigh!

Are you tired, too? Maybe, grab a coffee, because now it’s time for some recommendations!

Mockumentaries in India

We have not seen many mockumentaries in India, and the genre has been mostly untouched in India for a long time. However, now we have shows and upcoming young creators who take satire seriously.

They are churning out some of the best mockumentaries in the subcontinent. With the onset of OTT, we now have all forms of content coming out, and mockumentaries are one of them.

Satire in India has always been there in the rooted Indian culture. The popular culture Hasya Kavis has always been there. However, it has taken the lead and is now in the mainstream for people to enjoy!

Do you remember AK vs. AK on Netflix?

AK vs. AK

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With a real backdrop, we had the elements of fiction that brought out the over-the-top yet hollow nature of the film world. To know what a mockumentary is, you should check out AK vs. AK.

Indian Mockumentaries: Recommendations

We have also had several short and long-form content coming out from the same genre over the past few years. If you don’t know any of them, do check the list below!

Better Life Foundation

This show was created by stand-up comedian Naveen Richard and his group of friends.

The show is based on a group of individuals working at an NGO and covers the everyday life of these people.

Inspired by the many sitcoms from the west, this mockumentary gets the satire right. For a series of laughs throughout the five episodes, watch it now!

Not Fit

‘Not Fit’ is a Dice Media production based on a struggling actor’s life in Mumbai.

The show is full of the different antics and mishaps that happen in its journey of making it to the huge screen. The title, as per creator and director, Sudev Nair is a humorous take on the term ‘fit’ used by casting directors in auditions.

The show aims at looking at the lighter and brighter side of struggles that every actor who comes to the city of dreams has.

Project Kronos – Mini Film

Project Kronos might have everything you like! I

t is a blend of science fiction, comedy, and satire skillfully crafted for you to see.

IT professional Vishnu Cherian created wrote and acted in the film. He, his brother, and his friend were instrumental in putting this project together.

The film explores the idea of time travel comically. If you haven’t watched it, catch it here!

The President Is Coming

The show was written by Anubav Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapoor, where they stumble upon how Indians find life in America more luxurious than India. It is set in the era of George Washington Bush and his tenure as the POTUS.

The film is shot in the US consulate in Delhi. Where an appropriate candidate is chosen to shake hands with George Bush during his India visit.

Watch the full movie for FREE, here.

Anuvab Pal, in an interview, noted that ‘Humour is a better way to provide social commentary on polemical issues. And, mockumentaries do that successfully.

Mockumentaries Across The World

Now, let’s move out of our country. If you wish to understand what mockumentaries are about, then you should check out the mockumentaries below.

Yes, here is a list of the greatest mockumentaries of all time.

Modern Family

Modern Family

This American mockumentary family sitcom was aired on ABC. Covering the lives of three families living in Los Angeles who are linked to each other by Jay Pritchett, the patriarch.

The show also has the cast breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience directly. The show became popular for its unique storyline and relatability.

You can watch the show on Disney+Hotstar!

Documentary Now!

Documentary Now!

This television series has a successful run of three seasons. And, this series is the textbook definition of mockumentaries.

Here every episode is a parody version of popular and hard-hitting documentaries.

The show is based on a news magazine that exclusively covers documentaries.

The show was created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Rhys Thomas, and Seth Meyers.

What Do We In The Shadows

Available in Disney+Hotstar, the show is a horror mockumentary show.

So, if you are a fan of the horror-comedy genre, you are in for a ride. The show follows the lives of three vampires and their everyday life in the modern world.

We do need to know how the world looks from the lens of vampires. And, why not?

So, catch this three-season-long show, if you want to see how the world looks like, from the cynical view!

American Vandal

American Vandal is a parody of true-crime thriller documentaries that have been created over the years.

The show aired on Netflix in 2017-2018. The show was based on showing the loopholes in crime thrillers.

So, if you want a comedic experience when calculating the potential criminal, then this show is for you!

I hope this sorts out your weekend plans this time.

Wait, there are more of it…

Apart from this list, there are many more mockumentaries that you can watch if you enjoy this version of filmmaking. Some movies you should check out are:

  • Reno 911,
  • Angry Boys,
  • Who is America?,
  • Come Fly with me,

and more.

Final Take on Mockumentaries

Mockumentaries have given creative liberty to artists, directors, and the audience. This genre of filmmaking has brought out some genius content coming out from people.

The fact that it is topically relevant, makes it people’s favorite.

The goal of satire is not mockery but to create awareness, mockumentaries just become the right medium to do so.

Also, don’t forget making people laugh is the toughest task, but to provoke thoughts while you ROFL on the floor is satire at its finest.

They present to you fun and epiphany in the same package. If you have missed out on them so far, start away right now!

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