A documentary can be an excellent vehicle for expanding upon a given topic with a grace and clarity that entices viewers to follow up with extra research on its subject. A mockumentary, on the other hand, is a tool used for satirical commentary on societal absurdity, or just two hours of goofball antics.
Over the past thirty years or so, there has been a rise in this genre of fake storytelling presented in a mode normally reserved for nonfiction. At their most basic level, mockumentaries are comedies. However, if you look just beneath the surface, many of them are using parody to make a deeper point. Here are the films which have crafted the norms of this genre.
15. Incident at Loch Ness (2004)
Over the years, Werner Herzog has displayed many sides of himself, both behind and in front of the cinematic lens. Here, we see that he has a sense of humor, as he plays himself during the production of a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster, all while being the subject of another doc about his life.
The “film within a film” frame story and bizarre comedic timing make for an original take on mockumentaries. Director Zak Penn shines on screen as well, playing a producer who decides to liven the hunt for the creature by manufacturing a fake monster to add to the footage. The film’s realism is enhanced by the inclusion of prominent figures in the film industry.
14. I’m Still Here (2010)
When I’m Still Here was released, it really put Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous Letterman interview into perspective. In the film, Phoenix is trying to form a career as a rapper, which he presented to the American public as an actual aspiration of his. What follows is awkwardly amusing and inexplicably entrancing.
The way in which Phoenix and director Casey Affleck were able to present their project as sincere only added to their satire of media culture by examining the way we treat celebrities. As the film goes on, you are still unsure where the line between truth and fiction is drawn.
13. C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004)
How would the United States be different if the Confederate army had won the Civil War? This is precisely the question that Kevin Willmott aims to explore in this mockumentary. Presented as a television broadcast, the film includes commercials aimed at slaveholders.
Filled with dark, bitter humor, the events leading up to modern day are chronicled in vivid detail as our involvement in subsequent wars was very different. This works as a great parallel to Ken Burns’s documentary series The Civil War.
12. Forgotten Silver (1995)
As Peter Jackson was just beginning to gain international attention for his films, he and Costa Botes directed this film following the achievements of a New Zealand filmmaker. At first glance, the material presented seems to be entirely genuine, until you realize all of the innovations the filmmaker is responsible for couldn’t possibly all be attributed to the same man.
What really sells the narrative is the inclusion of interviews with various people within the world of cinema, such as Harvey Weinstein and Leonard Maltin. Forgotten Silver should be required viewing for anyone who claims to be educated in film history.
11. Bob Roberts (1992)
The world of politics is always a ripe target of satire. In Bob Roberts, writer/director/star Tim Robbins showcases his appreciation for This Is Spinal Tap by following the campaign of a conservative Republican senatorial candidate running against a seasoned Democrat (played by Gore Vidal).
As the film continues, his charismatic facade vanishes and we see Roberts as deceitful and manipulative. As the candidate uses folks songs to win over voters, Robbins shows his skill as a satirist, poking fun at both the ridiculous habits of the political climate and the bloodthirsty efforts of the media to capture them on tape.
10. Fear of a Black Hat (1993)
Following the adventures of an up and coming rap group, Fear of a Black Hat often comes up in the same conversations as CB4 which was released less than a year beforehand. However, this film directly parodies specific figures within the rap scene, particularly N.W.A. Framed as a sociological study of hip hop culture, the film follows the lives of the rappers, showing us the inspiration for their violent, chauvinistic lyrics.
Like many great spoof movies, the jokes are displayed in such a way that it is clear that the cast and crew have a deep appreciation for the subject matter.
9. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
As an outsider journalist trying to learn the societal norms of the United States, Borat (played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who also helped pen the screenplay) runs into some unfortunate mishaps. What follows is a fantastic satire of both American culture and discriminatory practices.
Borat served as a great transition for the star from sketch comedy to feature film, as his short gags are connected by not necessarily bound to one another in a strict linear storyline. The film is aided by its shameless vulgarity and by its addition of interactions with people who were unaware that Cohen was playing a character.