A mockumentary, a combination of the words “mock” and “documentary”, is a film (or television show) in which is certain subject is spoofed by relaying fictional events in a documentary-like manner as if they are real. The subject of the mockumentary is thereby parodied, although often the very form of documentaries themselves is also spoofed in the process. They often consist of recreations of events which are presented as being factual, interspersed with interviews of individuals (often real-life characters to add to the illusion of reality) commenting on whatever the subject at hand is.
The term became popularised by Rob Reiner in the eighties as he kept using it whilst describing that infamous rock faux-documentary he made at the time. Even if you know the most famous mockumentary of them all, maybe this list will still introduce you to some titles you might not have seen before or should simply see again. The highest ranked films listed here are certainly worth watching more than once.
12. Incident at Loch Ness (Zak Penn, 2004)
Okay, “hilarious” is maybe a bit of an overstatement for this one, but Incident at Loch Ness has a few things going for it to make it deserve a spot on this list. First of all it stars Werner Herzog, a pretty unlikely candidate to appear in a mockumentary like this one. Secondly, it has a fairly original premise as the film is built around a film, which is built around yet another film. And yes, at times it’s pretty damn funny.
The movie starts off explaining that John Bailey (A real-life cinematographer) and his crew are shooting a documentary on the life and works of Werner Herzog, called “Herzog in Wonderland”. Whilst they are doing this, Herzog is preparing to shoot his latest project, a documentary on the myth of the monster of Loch Ness called “Enigma of Loch Ness” (a fake project solely designed for this film but which got actual real-life press at the time as being the new Herzog film), produced by Zak Penn (a real-life writer/producer and the director of this film).
The crew follows Herzog and his crew as they make their way to Scotland and start shooting their documentary. But whilst there, it seems that, unbeknown to Herzog, producer Penn is also trying to shoot a cheap horror flick on the side. To make matters even worse, it also appears that the myth of Loch Ness might not be a myth after all…
Incident at Loch Ness is such a overstuffed film that it’s hard to decide what the movie is actually spoofing. At times, it makes fun of Herzog’s persona and his career, at other times it seems to be a parody of found footage films, whilst at others still, it mocks documentaries or the film industry in general. Whilst this approach makes the film falter, it’s also its greatest asset, along with Herzog’s participation, as there is no other mockumentary quite like this one.
The film also benefits greatly from the fact that plenty of real-life movie industry people make appearances, both as crew members but also as guests at a party thrown by Herzog (like Crispin Glover and Jeff Goldblum) at the start of the movie. And if you’re a Herzog fan, it’s a must-see film, if only to be amazed that he’s actually in it.
11. Fear of a Black Hat (Rusty Cundieff, 1993)
Fear of a Black Hat is a mockumentary which follows the exploits of imaginary rap group N.W.H. (Niggaz With Hats) and is basically the hip hop equivalent of that more famous mockumentary about a hard rock band, which we’ll get to later. The film was the directorial debut of Rusty Cundieff, who would go on to direct the highly successful Dave Chappelle Show some ten years later.
The film is presented as the study of a sociologist, Nina Blackburn, who follows the hardcore gangsta rap group N.W.H. (a clear spoof of real-life rap group N.W.A.) for a period of one year. The group consists of three members: rappers Ice Cold and Tasty Taste as well as their DJ Tone Def. The film is a clear satire of many of the aspects of hip hop culture and the record industry surrounding it, as the group has both internal as well as external feuds with other groups, creates controversy with violent, materialistic and misogynistic fuelled lyrics whilst also claiming to have an underlying message of social criticism.
Aside from the events surrounding the group itself, the movie satirises white gimmick rappers (Vanilla Sherbert), pop rappers (MC Slammer) and even alternative Afrocentric rappers as DJ Tone Def becomes a hippie after leaving the band. Filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton are also singled out and the movie even references a running gag from that other infamous music mockumentary as the white managers of the group keep dying under suspicious circumstances.
Fear of a Black Hat was met with plenty of critical acclaim but failed to turn it into financial success. The film however is an absolute must-see for lovers of hip hop as it’s filled to the brim with clever and funny references to the culture, which will be instantly recognisable to those enamoured with it. The fact that Dave Chappelle chose Rusty Cundieff as the director for his highly successful comedy series ,clearly indicates that within certain circles, the film struck a chord and wasn’t forgotten. And what’s not to like about a rap group (albeit a fictional one) that released a Christmas themed album called Ho Ho Ho’s?
10. The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (Eric Idle & Gary Weis, 1978)
Unlike Fear of a Black Hat, The Rutles: All You Need is Cash is clearly a forerunner of that most famous of mockumentaries about a band, which would follow six years later, and also the oldest mockumentary on this list. A collaboration between Monty Python’s Eric Idle and Saturday Night Live’s Gary Weis, the film is based on a spoof band, originally created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes for the British television comedy show Rutland Weekland Television. The Rutles’ parody of The Beatles became so popular that the band actually started touring and consequently this feature length mockumentary on the band was produced.
The film tells the story of The Rutles, also referred to as The Pre-Fab Four, a band which clearly is a full-on parody of The Beatles. More than an actual narrative, the film is a series of vignettes and sketches, whilst Eric Idle provides a framework with voice-over narration.
Many of the Beatles greatest hits and career highlights are spoofed as the band releases singles like “Hold My Hand” (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) and “Piggy in the Middle” (“I Am the Walrus”), whilst starring in movies like “A Hard Day’s Rut” “, “The Tragical History Tour” and “Yellow Submarine Sandwich”. Even Yoko Ono isn’t spared as one of the band members has a relationship with woman, who is presented here as a Neo-Nazi dominatrix.
The Rutles: All You Need is Cash is a great parody of the Beatles and even though it might be for fun for all, having sound knowledge of the actual band’s songs and history will greatly contribute to one’s appreciation of what’s on offer here.
The film is also greatly assisted by a plethora of cameos from Monthy Python, Saturday Night Live and music industry affiliated individuals, as Michael Palin, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and even George Harrison himself make appearances. The soundtrack to the movie is also well worth mentioning as it does a loving and fine job making fun of the original material and was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Comedy Recording of the year.
9. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006)
Sascha Baron Cohen had gained plenty of notoriety with Da Ali G Show and had also already adapted his main character from that show into the almost unwatchable feature film Ali G Indahouse, but when it came to the second film adaptation of one of the characters from his television show, he struck gold.
The story doesn’t really matter that much but the basic premise here is that Borat, a television personality from Kazakhstan, is sent to the United States to make a documentary about the “greatest country on earth” at the request of the Kazakh Ministry of Information. Whilst there, Borat sees an episode of Baywatch and immediately falls head over heels for Pamela Anderson, prompting him and his producer Azamat to buy a dilapidated ice-cream truck to drive to California with, in order to make the voluptuous lady his bride. Along the way, Borat encounters all sorts of “typical” Americans, and its his interaction with these individuals that make up the body of the film.
Finding the perfect way to translate his short sketches, in which unsuspecting targets are confronted by the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic and generally obnoxious Borat, from television to the big screen by framing them within a loose fictional framework, Sascha Baron Cohen shot to worldwide fame with this hilarious and utterly offensive mockumentary.
Clearly this film is not for everybody as some people will simply find the whole concept too vulgar and indeed offensive, but then they are probably just missing the point. Cohen doesn’t want you to laugh with Borat, he wants you love at Borat and at the general ignorance those he encounters display when their guards are down.
Scenes of Borat addressing the crowd of a rodeo with the hope that George W. Bush will drink the blood of every Iraqi or asking a group of feminists whether it is not true that women’s brains are simply smaller than those of men are as cringeworthy as they are hilarious. At times extremely hard to watch, yet always laugh-out-loud funny, Borat is a satirical triumph and a fantastic mockumentary. This movie was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, believe it or not.
8. Forgotten Silver (Peter Jackson & Costa Botes, 1995)
Just after Peter Jackson had made his first critically acclaimed film with Heavenly Creatures and before he would take off to Hollywood to do The Frightners, he co-directed this little underseen mockumentary for New Zealand television with Costa Botes. The film purports to be about a long forgotten pioneering New Zealand fimmaker and was initially presented as a real-life documentary (although watching the movie, it would soon have to have become apparent that one was dealing with a hoax, as the number of historical cinematic innovations attributed to the filmmaker start piling up).
The mockumentary starts off by detailing how recently the long lost works of fictional filmmaker Colin McKenzie have been found in some film tins in an old garden shed, where they had been left untouched for more than half a century. The footage on these roles of film clearly indicates that McKenzie was the first person in the world the use a tracking shot as well as a close-up and even pioneered the use of sound and color in film, way before their official historical documentation elsewhere in the world.
On top of that, there’s the footage of his long lost magnum opus Salome, a grand scale biblical epic which he shot in the forests of New Zealand, not to mention the fact that he witnessed an unknown New Zealander by the name of Richard Pearse fly an airplane several months before the Wright brothers took to the skies. All this and more add to the incredible life and achievements of Colin McKenzie, a man no one had ever heard about.
What makes Forgotten Silver so special is the loving care with which the “historical” footage has been recreated and the fact that the directors also managed to get some real heavy-hitters from the film world to participate, as people like Leonard Maltin, Sam Neill and Harvey Weinstein show up as interviewees.
The film isn’t just a great spoof of a fictional individual as well as the history of film, but also of the way television documentaries are presented in general. One of Peter Jackson’s lesser known efforts, Forgotten Silver is a little mockumentary gem and comes especially highly recommended for film buffs and historians, who will get a lot out of this one.
7. Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins, 1992)
A political satire presented in mockumentary form, Bob Roberts was Tim Robbins’ directorial debut. The film also stars Robbins as the titular right-wing folk singing politician, running for a senatorial seat in Pennsylvania.
The movie is obviously presented as a documentary and follows the rise of Bob Roberts, a right-wing conservative with a penchant for turning his political messages into folk songs. Bob is running against Democrat Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal) in the race for the senatorial seat in Pennsylvania and uses dirty and cynical tactics to gain an advantage. Terry Manchester (Brian Murray) is a British documentary filmmaker who is documenting his campaign, whilst reporter Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito) is trying to expose Roberts for what he believes he truly is: a dangerous fraud.
Based on a short segment of the same name for Saturday Night Live, Bob Roberts was expanded to a feature length satire by Robbins, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie as well as writing the songs Roberts performs. Supported by a great cast and plenty of cameos, including Alan Rickman, Ray Wise, James Spader, Helen Hunt, Peter Gallagher, Susan Sarandon, Fred Ward, Bob Balaban, John Cusack and a very young Jack Black, Bob Roberts is a great political satire. Special mention should go to the songs which Robbins wrote for the film, as they are especially hilarious.