Docufiction is a film genre that mixes elements of documentary and fiction narrative to create a narrative that appears authentic, but has actually been crafted to include elements of fiction or dramatization. This genre aims to combine the informational aspect of documentary with the emotional and narrative appeal of fiction, often seeking to make historical or real events more engaging for the audience. Docufiction can be used to address historical events, biographies, social issues, and many other issues.
Key features of the docufiction include:
- Hybrid storytelling: Docufiction mixes elements of documentary reality with dramatization or narrative fiction. This can involve using actors to impersonate real people or creating situations that didn’t happen exactly as shown.
- Interviews and Testimonials: Docufiction may include interviews with people involved in the historical or real events who are providing a personal perspective on what happened. Such interviews can be authentic or created for storytelling.
- Distorted reality: One of the controversial aspects of docufiction is the manipulation of reality. Events can be emphasized, simplified, or altered to fit the desired narrative. This raises ethical questions about the veracity of information presented to the public.
- Attention to realism: While it may include elements of dramatization, docufiction often seeks to accurately depict the environments, settings, and people involved in the story. Attention to detail can make storytelling more believable.
- Exploration of Themes and Issues: docufiction is not limited to reporting events, but can also explore social, political or human themes related to those events. This genre can offer in-depth perspective on important issues.
- Emotional Engagement: docufiction seeks to engage audiences emotionally, often through connecting with characters or through building suspense and tension in the narrative.
- Subjective Truth: Due to the use of dramatization and fiction, docufiction often presents subjective rather than objective truth. This can lead to audiences interpreting events in different ways.
When Was Docufiction Born?
Docufiction has deep roots in cinema history, but it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date of birth as the genre gradually emerged over time. However, we can identify some key moments and influences that have contributed to its evolution.
One of the earliest influences that contributed to the emergence of docufiction is the cinema verité movement, which originated in the 1960s. Cinema verité, or “cinema of reality,” sought to capture reality without interference, often using lighter, more mobile technical means to document real events in a direct and authentic way. This approach has inspired the way docufiction tries to represent reality through a realistic point of view.
Another important antecedent is the “mockumentary” (combination of the words “mock” and “documentary”), which is a type of film that simulates a documentary but is completely invented. Films such as “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964), a musical comedy with the Beatles, and Woody Allen’s “Zelig” (1983) are examples of works that played with documentary elements in a satirical and fictional way.
The term “docufiction” itself began to be used in the 1970s to describe films that blended elements of documentary and fiction. However, the practice of mixing documentary and fictional elements dates back to much earlier than this period. For example, Robert J. Flaherty’s film “Nanook of the North” (1922), often considered one of the first documentaries, used elements of dramatization and fiction to present Inuit life.
The concept of docufiction continued to develop over time, with films such as “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) by Gillo Pontecorvo, which reconstructed the events of Algeria’s struggle for independence using a realistic approach. Over the years, docufiction has been influenced by the evolution of cinematic technologies, new artistic perspectives and the ethical challenges associated with the accurate representation of reality.
In summary, docufiction has roots dating back at least to the 1960s, but its evolution has been influenced by various factors throughout the history of cinema. There is no precise date of birth for the genre, but rather a series of developments and influences that have led to the creation of this hybrid narrative form.
Nanook of the North (1922)
“Nanook of the North” is a 1922 silent docu-fiction directed by Robert J. Flaherty. It is considered one of the first examples of documentary and was made in a docufiction style, mixing elements of reality and dramatization. The film chronicles the life of an Inuit hunter named Nanook and his family in the Canadian Arctic.
While not a strictly realistic documentary (many scenes have been dramatized for cinematic effect), “Nanook of the North” significantly influenced the development of the documentary genre and helped create the idea of depicting the lives of ordinary people on screen. The film offers a unique look into the Inuit culture and their survival habits, but it should be noted that some elements have been rearranged for cinematic purposes.
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
“Man with a Movie Camera” is a groundbreaking 1929 experimental docu-fiction directed by Dziga Vertov. The film is known for its advanced cinematic technique and its depiction of urban life in the Soviet Union. With no traditional plot or linear narrative, the film captures a day in the life of a city through a series of dynamic images and creative editing.
Vertov uses different editing techniques, camera speeds and camera angles to create an immersive viewing experience. “Man with a Movie Camera” celebrates the power of cinema as a means of artistic and social expression. The film is considered a pioneer in the documentary genre and in experimental cinema, and has influenced many directors and artists over the years.
Three Songs About Lenin (1934)
“Three Songs about Lenin” is a 1934 docu-fiction film directed by Dziga Vertov, one of the most influential and innovative directors of Soviet documentary cinema.
The film “Three Songs about Lenin” is a cinematic celebration of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the October Revolution and the founder of the Soviet Union. The title refers to the three parts of the film, each of which represents a different aspect of Lenin’s life and work. These parts are accompanied by poetic lines recited by Aleksandr Bezymenski.
Here is an overview of the three parts of the film:
- First Song: The Conversion of Lenin into a Revolutionary This part focuses on Lenin’s youth, his intellectual growth, and his evolution into a revolutionary. Significant moments in his life are shown, including his involvement in political activities and his flight abroad to escape tsarist repression.
- Song Two: Lenin’s Battles This section explores Lenin’s role in leading the October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Bolshevik seizure of power. The film shows the key actions and decisions Lenin made during this tumultuous period.
- Song Three: The Death of Lenin The last part of the film deals with Lenin’s last days and his death in 1924. It focuses on his legacy and his lasting influence on the birth of the Soviet Union.
Dziga Vertov uses his signature cinematic style, known as “kino-glaz” (eye-cinema), to create a visual and poetic portrait of Lenin. The film features archival images, montages, visual effects and Vertov’s signature innovative editing. This approach gives the film a sense of dynamism and modernity.
“Three Songs about Lenin” is a significant example of Soviet documentary cinema and reflects the propaganda ideology of the time, celebrating the figure of Lenin as a revolutionary hero and guiding leader.
Triumph of the Will (1935)
“Triumph of the Will” is a docufiction propaganda directed by Leni Riefenstahl in 1935. The film documents the 1934 National Socialist German Party Congress in Nuremberg, Germany, and presents the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler in a highly idealized and celebratory lens.
The documentary is known for its technical mastery of photography and editing, but is also highly controversial due to its propaganda content and manipulative use of images. “Triumph of the Will” was made during a time when the Nazi regime was trying to consolidate and strengthen its power, and was used as a propaganda tool to promote the party’s ideology and Hitler’s leadership.
The film is now often studied in the context of the history of cinema and propaganda, as it raises important questions about ethics and the influence of the media in shaping public opinion.
Night and Fog (1955)
“Night and Fog” is a docufiction directed by Alain Resnais in 1955. The film deals with the subject of the Holocaust, examining the Nazi concentration camps and the atrocities committed during the Second World War.
Through the use of archival images, photographs, film footage and a narrative commentary, the documentary presents a powerful and moving testimony to the horror and suffering endured by prisoners in concentration camps. “Nuit et Brouillard” is a deeply moving film that seeks to preserve the historical memory of the Holocaust and to raise public awareness of the atrocities committed during that dark period in history. The film is often considered a major contribution to the historical documentary genre.
“Salesman” is a 1969 docu-fiction directed by Albert and David Maysles, together with Charlotte Zwerin. The film follows a group of door-to-door salesmen who work for a company selling high-priced Bibles. The documentary offers an intimate look into their lives, economic challenges and personal dynamics.
Through an observational approach, “Salesman” captures the hardships and drudgery of the sales job, as well as exploring broader themes such as economic pressure, the dehumanization of selling and group dynamics. The documentary focuses on the daily life of the sellers, offering an authentic and unfiltered look at their experience. “Salesman” has been praised for its powerful portrayal of the working class and natural documentary style.
Grey Gardens (1975)
“Grey Gardens” is a 1975 docu-fiction directed by Albert and David Maysles, with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. The film is set in the luxurious but decadent mansion “Grey Gardens” in East Hampton, New York, inhabited by Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (known as “Big Edie”) and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (known as “Little Edie”), relatives by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The documentary offers an intimate look into the lives of the two women, who live in isolation and decay into poverty and disorder. “Grey Gardens” explores their complex relationship, quirky personalities and personal challenges. The film is a portrait of two singular women, belonging to an aristocratic family, but trapped in an unusual and difficult situation. “Grey Gardens” was praised for its intimate storytelling and authentic portrayal of these two unique figures.
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (Yuki Yukite Shingun) is an influential Japanese documentary directed by Kazuo Hara in 1987. The film follows Kenzo Okuzaki, a former soldier of the Japanese Imperial Army, as he attempts to expose the truth about murders committed during World War II, particularly those carried out by military superiors. The film starkly and provocatively addresses themes of guilt, responsibility, and historical denial. Its controversial narrative and raw style have made this film a landmark in the documentary landscape and a critical reflection on Japanese history and society.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
“The Thin Blue Line” is a famous 1988 docu-fiction directed by Errol Morris. The documentary examines the case of Randall Dale Adams, a man wrongly convicted of the murder of a policeman in Texas in 1976. The documentary questions the validity of the evidence presented in the trial and analyzes the testimony of various individuals involved in the case, among including eyewitnesses and investigators.
Errol Morris’ documentary is known for its innovative approach to the use of interviews, recreation and storytelling. Morris interviews several people involved in the case, presenting a variety of viewpoints and versions of events. Furthermore, the director uses stylized recreations of the events in question, which give the film a unique look and contribute to its narrative structure.
‘The Thin Blue Line’ was critically acclaimed and had a significant impact not only in the world of documentary filmmaking but also in criminal justice. The documentary helped get Randall Dale Adams’ case reexamined, and the evidence that emerged after his release eventually led to his conviction being reviewed. The film demonstrated the potential of documentaries to bring about real change and influenced how documentary cinema can address legal and legal issues.
“The Thin Blue Line” is often cited as one of the most influential and important documentaries ever made. His distinctive style and ability to explore legal and justice themes with an immersive narrative approach have had a lasting impact on the documentary form and practice. The film has also helped create new conversations about the veracity of legal evidence and the manipulation of testimony in court trials.
Grizzly Man (2005)
“Grizzly Man” is a 2005 docu-fiction directed by Werner Herzog. The film focuses on the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent thirteen summers living near grizzlies in wild Alaska. The documentary explores his obsession with bears, his interactions with them and the tragic fate he has met.
Using footage from Treadwell himself, interviews and comments from director Herzog, the documentary offers a reflection on topics such as human nature, the relationship with the wild nature and the boundaries of human understanding of wild creatures. “Grizzly Man” has been praised for its emotional depth and critical analysis of man’s relationship with nature, as well as Herzog’s unique approach to narrating this remarkable story.
Man on Wire (2008)
“Man on Wire” is a 2008 docu-fiction directed by James Marsh. The film tells the story of Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker who in 1974 accomplished an extraordinary feat: crossing the void between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on a steel cable stretched between the two towers. The documentary mixes interviews, archival images and dramatizations to create an engaging account of this daring exploit. “Man on Wire” was acclaimed for its compelling storytelling and for the depiction of Philippe Petit’s courage and determination in accomplishing this incredible feat. It also won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009.
Waltz with Bashir (2008)
“Waltz with Bashir” è un animation film and 2008 docufiction, written and directed by Ari Folman. The film deals with traumatic memories of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The director, a former Israeli soldier, tries to recover his memories of that period through interviews with old comrades in arms and friends. Using stunning animation and a mix of visual styles, the film explores the traumas of war, guilt and the effect of time on memory. “Waltz with Bashir” is known for its uniqueness and emotional depth, as well as its depiction of historical events through a personal and psychological prism. It has received numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a 2010 docu-fiction exploring the world of street art and graffiti, directed by the mysterious British artist Banksy. The film follows the story of Thierry Guetta, a French video camera enthusiast who becomes obsessed with documenting street artists, including Banksy himself.
However, in the end it is Banksy who takes over the reins and becomes director, reversing roles and creating a work that raises questions about the true nature of art, authenticity and commercialization. The documentary deals with themes of creativity, authenticity and cultural criticism in an intriguing and often ironic way. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” has been lauded for its insight into the contemporary art world and its unique perspective on popular culture.
The Act of Killing (2012)
“The Act of Killing” is a 2012 docu-fiction directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. This docu-fiction film deals with the Indonesian massacre of 1965-66 through the perspective of some of the perpetrators. The same individuals, who were involved in the killing of thousands of people, are invited to reconstruct the scenes of the past using the film genre. The result is an extraordinary exploration of memory, guilt and the nature of human violence. “The Act of Killing” has been widely praised for its originality and depth in its depiction of traumatic historical events.
“Amy” is a 2015 docu-fiction directed by Asif Kapadia. The film chronicles the life and career of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, known for her musical talent and the personal challenges she has faced. Through archival images, interviews and footage, the documentary offers an intimate look at his artistic growth, success, but also the battles with fame, addictions and media pressures.
“Amy” offers an honest and moving perspective on the life of Amy Winehouse, exploring both her musical talent and the personal challenges leading up to her tragic death. The documentary was praised for its sincerity and respectful approach to exploring the life of a complex music icon. It won the Oscar for best documentary in 2016.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
“Searching for Sugar Man” is a 2012 docu-fiction directed by Malik Bendjelloul. The film follows the story of American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who released two albums in the 1970s but remained relatively unknown in the United States. However, unbeknownst to him, his music had a significant impact in South Africa, becoming a symbol of resistance under apartheid.
The documentary follows the efforts of two South African fans as they try to find out what happened to Rodriguez and if he is still alive. The search takes them on a surprising journey, revealing the truth about the musician’s career and life. “Searching for Sugar Man” is an emotional story of discovery and rebirth, celebrating the power of music and its ability to impact people’s lives. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2013.
“Lightning ” is a French docu-fiction by Manuela Morgane of 2013. The film is divided into two parts that represent a combination of legend and documentary spread over four seasons. This work offers a multifaceted cinematic spectacle, following an irregular path similar to the ramifications of lightning branching out in the sky. The plot takes place in various countries around the world and spans different centuries. This narrative unfolds simultaneously in both a documentary and a legendary format.
In the fall segment, a lightning hunter is introduced, a figure associated with the divine Syrian god of lightning, Baal. Through an extraordinary vision, Baal projects 25 years of video archives onto the lightning canvas. He shares the scientific keys to this extraordinary and, at the same time, destructive phenomenon.
The winter season delves into the analysis of melancholy, the last stage of depression, and strategies to overcome it. This psychological journey is represented by a psychiatrist who embodies the mysterious god Saturn.
In spring, the story of Syméon the stylite is relived, an eccentric who spent 40 years at the top of a column. Syméon was murdered in the Cham Desert near Palmyra, but he is also the one who explores the Earth. It tells the true story of Aleppo soap, a cauldron full of mythology. The summer season transforms the text of Marivaux’s “La dispute” into a scenario where love at first sight unites Azor and Églé, two beings isolated on an island called Sutra.
Running nearly four hours, this documentary ranks among the most original ever made, an extraordinary experience that blends documentary and legendary elements. For anyone wishing to track down, even symbolically, lost energies, this four-part film is a must.
Corona Days (2020)
It’s a drama movie and docufiction, directed by Fabio Del Greco in Italy, in 2020. Following the emergency measures related to the Corona virus, a man finds himself left alone at home. Loneliness, the passage of time and limited space become adversaries, while imagination, memories and the desire for freedom become allies. Director Fabio Del Greco intimately documents the days of isolation caused by the Corona virus, filming the outdoor scenes exclusively with a smartphone.
The chronicle of these unusual days becomes the inspiration for a reflection on the relativity of time and space, and on how the concept of freedom can transcend reality to find a home in our soul.
In the period of the Coronavirus, an authentic and instinctive director like Del Greco reaped the benefits of his unusual “cinediario,” created during the weeks of quarantine. He captured his own loneliness up close and, from a safe distance, that of his friends and relatives. Above all, he took advantage of the limited “hours of freedom” granted by the authorities to capture a world devoid of humanity and subjected to rigorous police controls.
All of this takes place through the eyes of an author who, in his usual style, is playful, disillusioned and subtly ironic, even when he puts himself on stage as an actor. Proceeding in the exploration of reality, between nostalgic inspirations and flashes of irony, Fabio Del Greco goes beyond this initial effort. He transforms his feature film into a series of nested boxes where different audiovisual contributions converge.
While these contributions may vary chronologically, they are all deeply inspiring and loaded with meaning. The interaction between present and past, skilfully orchestrated even in the editing phase, creates a short circuit in which the past is not just a simple collection of memories; it becomes an additional escape into the realm of imagination. As a socio-political critique emerges, albeit justified, the narrative gradually shifts towards a larger existential picture.