A pseudo-documentary is a film or video production that takes the form or style of a documentary film but does not portray real events. Rather, scripted and fictional elements are used to tell the story. The pseudo-documentary, unlike the related mockumentary, is not always intended as satire or humor. It may use documentary camera techniques but with fabricated sets, actors, or situations, and it may use digital effects to alter the filmed scene or even create a wholly synthetic scene.[1][2][3]


Orson Welles made use of pseudo-documentary elements in his work.

Orson Welles gained notoriety with his radio show and hoax War of the Worlds which fooled listeners into thinking the Earth was being invaded by Martians. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum says this is Welles' first pseudo-documentary.[4] Pseudo-documentary elements were subsequently used in his feature films. For instance, Welles created a pseudo-documentary newsreel which appeared within his 1941 film Citizen Kane, and he began his 1955 film, Mr. Arkadin, with a pseudo-documentary prologue.[5]

Peter Watkins has made several films in the pseudo-documentary style. The War Game (1965), which reported on a fake nuclear bombing of England, was seen as so disturbingly realistic that the BBC chose not to broadcast it. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Watkins' other such films include Punishment Park (1971) and La Commune (2002).

The film Mad Max 2 first frames the story by showing a staged documentary-style sequence of images designed to inform the viewer that what follows is the aftermath of an apocalyptic global war.[6]

The methods of pseudo-documentary have been sharply criticized in some cases, notably with the 1991 Oliver Stone film JFK, which mixes fact with fiction to advance Stone's point that John F. Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.[7][8] The film cuts confusingly between actual footage of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and staged images of actor Gary Oldman who is playing Oswald.[6][9] The modern sequences are badly lit and they are artificially made grainy and scratched-looking so that they appear to be 1963-era 16 mm film.[10] Stone uses the pseudo-documentary format to influence the viewer by presenting the conspiracy theory in a scientific and authoritative manner.[7][8]


Related to, and in exact opposition to pseudo-documentary, is the notion of “fake-fiction”. A fake-fiction film takes the form of a staged, fictional movie, while actually portraying real, unscripted events.

The notion of fake-fiction was coined[11] by Pierre Bismuth to describe his 2016 film Where Is Rocky II?, which uses documentary method to tell a real, unscripted story, but is shot and edited to appear like a fiction film. The effect of this fictional aesthetic is precisely to cancel the sense of reality, making the real events appear as if they were staged or constructed.

Unlike mockumentary, fake-fiction does not focus on satire, and in distinction with docufiction, it does not re-stage fictional versions of real past events.

Another filmmaker whose work could be associated with the concept of fake-fiction is Gianfranco Rosi. For example, Below Sea Level[12] uses the language of fiction cinema in its rendering of unscripted, documentary material. Of his own work, Rosi said, "I don’t care if I'm making a fiction film or documentary — to me it's a film, it's a narrative thing."[13]

Found or discovered footage

The term found footage has sometimes been used to describe pseudo-documentaries where the plot involves the discovery of the film's footage. Found footage is originally the name of an entirely different genre, but the magazine Variety, for example, used the term "faux found-footage film" to describe the 2012 film Grave Encounters 2. The film scholar David Bordwell has criticized this recent use because of the confusion it creates, and instead prefers the term "discovered footage" for the narrative gimmick.[14]


Pseudo-documentary forms have appeared in television advertisements and campaign advertising. The "Revolving Door" ad used in the US presidential campaign of 1988 to attack candidate Michael Dukakis showed scripted scenes intended to look like documentary footage of men entering and exiting a prison through a revolving door.[15] Boston-based band the Del Fuegos appeared in a 1984 commercial for Miller beer, with scripted scenes shot in hand-held camera/pseudo-documentary style. The band was criticized for selling out and for the falseness of the commercial; founding member Warren Zanes said making the ad was a mistake, that their core audience turned away, and the larger audience gained by the exposure did not maintain interest for long.[16]

Peter Greenaway employed pseudo-documentary style in his French television production Death on the Seine in 1988. He used fabricated scenes to reconstruct a historic event that was otherwise impossible to shoot, and portrayed it as reality.[17]

Reality television has been described as a form of pseudo-documentary.[18] An early and influential example is 1992's The Real World by MTV, a scripted "reality" show bordering on soap opera.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Jacobs, Delmar G. (2000). Revisioning film traditions: the pseudo-documentary and the neoWestern. Mellen Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0773476490.
  2. ^ Jacobs, Delmar G. (2009). Interrogating the Image: Movies and the World of Film and Television. University Press of America. pp. 30, 188–194. ISBN 0761846328.
  3. ^ Jacobs, Delmar G. (1997). Pseudo-documentary: Form and Application in Narrative Feature Film. University of South Florida.
  4. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2007). Discovering Orson Welles: Jonathan Rosenbaum. University of California Press. p. 144. ISBN 0520247388.
  5. ^ Rosenbaum 2007, p. 133
  6. ^ a b Bordwell, David; Thompson, Kristin (2004). Film art: an introduction (7 ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 132. ISBN 0072484551.
  7. ^ a b Lin, Sylvia Li-Chun (2007). Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incident and White Terror in Fiction and Film. Global Chinese Culture. Columbia University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0231143605.
  8. ^ a b Theoharis, Athan G. (1999). The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 298. ISBN 089774991X.
  9. ^ Landy, Marcia (2001). The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 327. ISBN 0485300966.
  10. ^ Burgoyne, Robert (2003). "Memory, History, and Digital Imagery in Contemporary Film". In Paul Grainge (ed.). Memory and Popular Film. Inside Popular Film. Manchester University Press. pp. 231–232. ISBN 0719063752.
  11. ^ Campion, Chris (2015-02-11). "Where is Rocky II? The 10-year desert hunt for Ed Ruscha's missing boulder". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  12. ^ Below Sea Level
  13. ^ Hynes, Eric (2016-10-24). "Fire at Sea's Gianfranco Rosi on the Art of Finding What Matters". LA Weekly. ISSN 0192-1940. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  14. ^ Bordwell, David (13 November 2012). "Return to Paranormalcy". Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  15. ^ Jamieson, Kathleen Hall (1996). Packaging The Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 521. ISBN 0199879869.
  16. ^ Zanes, Warren (2007). "Video and the Theater of Purity". In Roger Beebe, Jason Middleton (ed.). Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones. Duke University Press. pp. 269–289. ISBN 0822341395.
  17. ^ Grant, Barry Keith (1998). Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Contemporary approaches to film and television. 3. Wayne State University Press. p. 172. ISBN 0814326390.
  18. ^ Elliott, Douglas Warren (1999). Reality-based Television as Pseudo-documentary. University of Minnesota.
  19. ^ Calvert, Clay (2004). Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering Into Modern Culture. Critical Studies in Communication and in Cultural Industries. Basic Books. p. 214. ISBN 0786747757.
Auditions (film)

Auditions is a 1978 American erotic pseudo-documentary directed by Harry Hurwitz (credited as Harry Tampa). It was written by Albert Band and Charles Band, and stars Bonnie Werchan, Rick Cassidy and Linnea Quigley. Hurwitz also appears in the film as the director, although he is not credited. The film follows the process of casting actors and actresses for a pornographic film. Although several actual porn stars are in the film, it does not depict any actual sexual acts. It was remade in 1999 as Auditions from Beyond.

Citizen Kane trailer

The Citizen Kane trailer was a four-minute, self-contained, "making of" promotional featurette by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, released in 1940 to promote the film Citizen Kane. Unlike other standard theatrical trailers of the era, it did not feature a single second of footage of the actual film itself, but was a wholly original pseudo-documentary piece. It is considered by numerous film scholars such as Simon Callow, Joseph McBride and Jonathan Rosenbaum to be a standalone short film, rather than a conventional "trailer", and to represent an important stage in the development of Welles's directorial style.

Contest Searchlight

Contest Searchlight is a four-episode fictional comedy television series that aired in 2002 on the Comedy Central network. It was a documentary-style parody or mockumentary of the HBO (and later Bravo) network's non-fictional series Project Greenlight.

Contest Searchlight starred Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke, playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, as TV producers holding a nationwide contest to select a new television series to produce for the Comedy Central network. When none of the proposed submissions prove acceptable, Leary and Clarke end up combining several of the finalist's proposals to produce a new, semi-improvised ensemble sitcom entitled "Jesus and the Gang." The new show ostensibly stars New York City theatre and television actor Peter Gallagher (again playing a fictionalized version of himself), but when Gallagher is hit by a car during the filming of a network promotion, the lead role is shifted to comedian Patrice O'Neal. During rehearsals for the premiere episode, the actors, crew and producers all start fighting each other (and themselves), and "Jesus and the Gang" is permanently shelved.

Contest Searchlight was shown in a pseudo-documentary style, and there was no laugh track or other obvious sign that this was a fictional series. Following Peter Gallagher's exit from the show, both he and Comedy Central received a number of panicked calls from viewers who believed that Gallagher really had been hit by a car.

A fully produced version of the "Jesus and the Gang" theme song appears as the eighth track on Leary's 2004 album, Merry F#%$in' Christmas.

Found footage (film technique)

Found footage is a film subgenre in which all or a substantial part of the work is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time, off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were "raw" and complete or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who "found" it.

The most common use of the technique is in horror films (e.g., Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Cloverfield), where the footage is purported to be the only surviving record of the events, with the participants now missing or dead. It has also been used in science-fiction (e.g., Chronicle, Project Almanac, Europa Report), drama (e.g., Zero Day, Exhibit A), comedy (e.g., Project X) and family (e.g., Earth to Echo) films.

Although found footage was originally the name of an entirely different genre, it is now frequently used to describe pseudo-documentaries crafted with this narrative technique. The film magazine Variety has, for example, used the term "faux found-footage film" to describe the 2012 film Grave Encounters 2. Film scholar David Bordwell criticizes this recent usage, arguing that it sows confusion, and instead prefers the term "discovered footage" for the narrative gimmick.Found-footage films typically employ one or more of four cinematic techniques—first-person perspective, pseudo-documentary or mockumentary, news footage, or surveillance footage—according to an analysis of 500 found-footage films conducted by Found Footage Critic.

From the Earth to the Moon (miniseries)

From the Earth to the Moon is a 12-part 1998 HBO television miniseries co-produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tom Hanks, and Michael Bostick, telling the story of the landmark Apollo program during the 1960s and early 1970s in docudrama format. Largely based on Andrew Chaikin's book, A Man on the Moon, the series is known for its accurate telling of the story of Apollo and the outstanding special effects under visual director Ernest D. Farino.

The series takes its title from, but is not based upon, the famous Jules Verne science fiction novel From the Earth to the Moon. Hanks appears in every episode, introducing each of the first eleven. The last episode is represented in a pseudo-documentary format narrated by Blythe Danner, interspersed with a reenactment of the making of Georges Méliès' film Le Voyage dans la Lune. Hanks narrates and appears in these scenes as Méliès' assistant.

Head Case (film)

Head Case is a 2007 pseudo-documentary film (cinéma vérité) horror film written and directed by Anthony Spadaccini.

The film is presented as a collection of home movies from serial killers Wayne and Andrea Montgomery, middle-class suburban residents of Claymont, Delaware who film their sadistic crimes.

Interview with the Assassin

Interview with the Assassin is a 2002 drama/pseudo-documentary starring Raymond J. Barry and Dylan Haggerty.


Kwaheri, also known as Kwaheri: Vanishing Africa or Kwaheri: The Forbidden, is a 1964 mondo film directed by David Chudnow and Thor Brooks. The film was a pseudo-documentary about vanishing native tribes in Africa. Kwaheri means Goodbye in Swahili.

As the film focused more on the controversial aspects of the tribal societies, it gained the attention of exploitation filmmakers, including Kroger Babb, whose Hallmark Productions distribution company acquired the American rights.

Lena Nyman

Anna Lena Elisabet Nyman (23 May 1944 – 4 February 2011) was a Swedish film and stage actress.

Having had her first film roles in 1955, Nyman had a role in Vilgot Sjöman's 491 (1964) and got her breakthrough in his I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967), where she, in pseudo-documentary fashion, played a character of the same name as herself, and its sequel I Am Curious (Blue) (1968). She later participated in many of the films and stage productions of Hans Alfredson and Tage Danielsson, such as Release the Prisoners to Spring (1975) and The Adventures of Picasso (1978). Nyman co-starred with Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978).

In 2004, Nyman received the royal medal Litteris et Artibus, and in 2006 she was the recipient of the Eugene O'Neill Award.Nyman died on 4 February 2011, aged 66, after a long battle with several illnesses including cancer, COPD and Guillain–Barré syndrome.

Mitten im Leben (reality TV series)

Mitten im Leben is a German pseudo-documentary drama-reality television series.


A mockumentary (a portmanteau of mock and documentary) or docucomedy is a type of movie or television show depicting fictional events but presented as a documentary.These productions are often used to analyze or comment on current events and issues by using a fictional setting, or to parody the documentary form itself. While mockumentaries are usually comedic, pseudo-documentaries are their dramatic equivalents. However, pseudo-documentary should not be confused with docudrama, a fictional genre in which dramatic techniques are combined with documentary elements to depict real events. Also, docudrama is different from docufiction; a genre in which documentaries are contaminated with fictional elements.

Mockumentaries are often presented as historical documentaries, with B roll and talking heads discussing past events, or as cinéma vérité pieces following people as they go through various events. Examples emerged during the 1950s when archival film footage became available. A very early example was a short piece on the "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest" that appeared as an April Fools' prank on the British television program Panorama in 1957.

The term "mockumentary", which originated in the 1960s, was popularized in the mid-1980s when This Is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner used it in interviews to describe that film.Mockumentaries are often partly or wholly improvised, as an unscripted style of acting helps to maintain the pretense of reality. Comedic mockumentaries rarely have laugh tracks, also to sustain the atmosphere, although exceptions exist.

Music "is often employed to expose the ambiguities and fallacies of conventional storytelling; for instance by pointing at the paradoxes of the distinction between diegetic and extradiegetic music".

Mondo Topless

Mondo Topless is a 1966 pseudo-documentary directed by Russ Meyer, featuring Babette Bardot and Lorna Maitland among others. It was Meyer's first color film following a string of black and white "roughie nudies", including Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! While a straightforward sexploitation film, the film owes some debt to the French New Wave and cinéma vérité traditions, and is known to some under the titles Mondo Girls and Mondo Top.

Its tagline: "Two Much For One Man...Russ Meyer's Busty Buxotic Beauties ... Titilating ... Torrid ... Untopable ... Too Much For One Man!"

The film was banned in Finland.

Mondo film

A mondo film (from the Italian word for "world") is an exploitation documentary film, sometimes resembling a pseudo-documentary and usually depicting sensational topics, scenes, or situations. Common traits of mondo films include portrayals of foreign cultures (which have drawn accusations of ethnocentrism or racism), an emphasis on taboo subjects (such as death and sex), and staged sequences presented as genuine documentary footage. Over time, the films placed increasing emphasis on footage of the dead and dying (both real and fake). The term shockumentary is also used to describe the genre.

Punishment Park

Punishment Park is a 1971 American mockumentary drama film written and directed by Peter Watkins. It is a pseudo documentary of a British and West German film crew following National Guard soldiers and police as they pursue members of a counterculture group across a desert.

Sex report film

Sex report films (German: Report-Filme) were pseudo-documentaries that had sexual life as their subject matter. Effectively sexploitation films, the genre was particularly popular in the early 1970s Europe.

Shaky camera

Shaky camera, shaky cam, jerky camera, queasy cam, run-and-gun or free camera is a cinematographic technique where stable-image techniques are purposely dispensed with. It is a hand-held camera, or given the appearance of being hand-held, and in many cases shots are limited to what one photographer could have accomplished with one camera. Shaky cam is often employed to give a film sequence an ad hoc, electronic news-gathering, or documentary film feel. It suggests unprepared, unrehearsed filming of reality, and can provide a sense of dynamics, immersion, instability or nervousness. The technique can be used to give a pseudo-documentary or cinéma vérité appearance to a film.Too much shaky camera motion can make some viewers feel distracted, dizzy or sick.

The Atticus Institute

The Atticus Institute is a 2015 American independent pseudo-documentary horror film written and directed by Chris Sparling about a paranormal research institute, which becomes home to the only U.S. government confirmed case of possession.

The Hitler Gang

The Hitler Gang is a 1944 American pseudo-documentary film directed by John Farrow, which traces the political rise of Adolf Hitler. Described as a "documentary-propaganda" film by its studio, Paramount Pictures, the historical drama is based on documented fact and marks the first serious effort to portray Hitler in film. The filmmakers chose to avoid casting stars in the lead roles, assembling instead a remarkable company of lookalikes to play Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Göring, and other leading Nazis.

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