Are We In For More Fake ‘Documentaries?’

Published 5 years ago by

Im Still Here Joaquin Phoenix Are We In For More Fake Documentaries?

It’s official: the documentary I’m Still Here starring actor turned rapper Joaquin Phoenix is a fraud.

The public suspected as much as soon as they heard Phoenix’s first “song.“ But director Casey Affleck let the unkempt cat out of the bag roughly a week after the movie opened in select cities – and a few days before Phoenix’s return to David Letterman’s couch.

The ramifications of JP’s performance art may be just beginning.

What if other actors take notice of Phoenix’s stunt and start planning their own “Punk’d” maneuver? Why not? Phoenix drew boatloads of press from the stunt, just the kind of attention a lesser known actor might crave.

Phoenix was already on the map when he faked his retirement, but his blueprint could be followed by a rising star or starlet with only a few modest tweaks. Think US Weekly and every other panting tabloid wouldn’t fall for it all over again? Even the “is it or isn’t it true” guessing game is good for some extra headlines.

Voila, instead media sensation without landing a single role of consequence for Jane or Johnny Actor.

It might not even matter if the movie in question tanks. I’m Still Here’s box office haul is a measly $250,000 in its first two weeks of release. Now that the truth is out there, it’s hard to see more movie goers flocking to the feature.

That doesn’t mean this film genre of one is dead. After all, just look at the killing reality shows make on television. Surely, someone out there is thinking of bringing the format – supposedly real situations twisted like pretzels into dramas and comedies – to the big screen. It could appeal to studios for the same reasons it does for TV suits. They’re cheap and the return on investment is occasionally huge.

Boob tube watchers don’t seem to care if The Hills or those Osbourne exploits are real or tweaked by a team of writers.

And the big screen documentary has been edging in this direction for years. Look at Michael Moore’s handiwork. He took a genre known for dull expositions on nature and the arts and spit-polished it until it looked as shiny as a summer blockbuster. But as right-of-center scribes and news outlets alike have noted, Moore’s films occasionally tinker with the truth.

Now, the documentary playing at your local art house is more cinematic op-ed than Frontline installment. But is that a slippery slope to a “Kardashians” feature film?

We may partially be there already. Did anyone watching the documentary American Teen and find the story arcs a little too tidy and Breakfast Club-like? And what about Catfish, the new “it” documentary already causing some critics to throw a yellow flag in its direction?

The brilliant comedy Borat teased us with a combination of Candid Camera stunts and scripted bits. But it was a comedy – and an uproarious one at that – so audiences shrugged over any reality show-style concerns.

All it will take is one faux documentary like I’m Still Here to strike the zeitgeist and the floodgates will open. Here’s hoping film producers think twice – if not more – before going down the Phoenix trail.

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  1. i dont think so. fool me once shame on you……
    that little saying comes to mind here

  2. i really think he was having som kinda break down and i think he was trippin out and i think he saw what he was doing and decided to call it a hoax but if it was a hoax what was the reason? the film made no money i read that it was good but what was the reason why play a pratical joke on the public it made no sense

    • well, i think he’s just a moron, but thats just me

    • cheers… i think he thought he could channel the likes of Johnny Cash and found out that Johnny had a stronger moral fiber than that…

  3. I’m surprised at people’s sensitivities towards mockumentaries. They are not a new genre. Everyone knows they are either fake, a send up or parody and have in fact been around since the fifties.

    At the end of the day if they have entertained, provoked or annoyed you, they have served their purpose. You have a freewill choice not to see them.

    Joaquin Phoenix unequivocally stated on Letterman that the idea behind the mockumentary was “to explore the relationship between the media and the consumers and celebrities themselves.” Well guess what that’s what mockumentaries do – they analyze or comment on current events and issues by using a fictitious setting.

    One could say that the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles served as precursor to the genre.

    The following list of mockumentaries is from Wikipedia. I have only seen some of them.

    A Hard Day’s Night (1964), written by Alun Owen, and purporting to describe a couple of days in the lives of The Beatles, was possibly the first feature film that could be characterized as a “mockumentary.

    All You Need Is Cash (aka The Rutles) (UK, 1979), Beatles parody telling of The Rutles’ story, while also parodying documentary makers themselves.

    Auditions, a 1970s mockumentary about the porn industry directed by Harry Hurwitz.

    The Baby Formula, a lesbian couple both get pregnant through an experimental stem cell procedure (Canada, 2009)

    Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (US, 2005), a film crew follows Leslie Vernon, a serial-killer in training.

    Believe (US, 2007), story of multi-level marketing and a failed pyramid scheme.

    Best in Show (UK/US, 2000), story of some contestants at a national dog show.

    The Big Tease, a Scottish hairdresser’s journey to the US for a hairdressing competition, filmed with mockumentary elements.

    Bob Roberts (US, 1992), a Tim Robbins satiric film about a right wing folksinger’s crooked election campaign.

    Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (US/UK, 2006), about a Kazakh journalist’s journey through the United States.

    Born Twiztid: Beyond the Freekshow is a mockumentary talking about the supposed early life of the band Twiztid.

    Bottomfeeders (US, 2001), about a political campaign in Pennsylvania.

    Brüno (US/UK 2009), pseudosequel to Borat about a gay Austrian reporter’s journey through the United States.

    Cane Toads (1988), Aussie mockumentary tells the cautionary tale of what can happen when nature is tampered with. In this case, when an alien ‘natural’ factor (the cane toad) is placed into a new environment.

    CB4, a parody rapumentary that follows the story of CB4, a fictional rap group that is loosely based on N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew.

    The Canadian Conspiracy (US, 1985), about a supposed Canadian plan to subvert the United States by taking over its media.

    Chalk, 2007 movie based on two teachers’ real life experiences. LA Weekly said to think of it as “To Sir, with Sarcasm”.

    Comic Book: The Movie, a 2004 direct-to-DVD release mockumentary about a comic book fanboy dealing with the unfaithful film adaptation of his favorite character, set to the backdrop of the 2002 San Diego Comic-Con.

    C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.

    Confetti (film) (France, 2002), a British mockumentary about a fashion magazine wedding competition

    Dark Side of the Moon tries to portray the moon landings as a creation in a movie lot by Stanley Kubrick.

    The Delicate Art of Parking, a Canadian mockumentary about parking-enforcement officers.

    Dill Scallion, a 1999 feature follows the rise and fall of country-western singer Dill Scallion (Billy Burke) in the mode of This Is Spinal Tap.

    Dog Bites Man, a parody of local news coverage, and follows the misadventures of a struggling news team as they travel around the country producing news segments.

    Drop Dead Gorgeous a camera crew follows beauty pageant contestants in a small town.

    Farce of the Penguins (US, 2007), a direct-to-video film which is a parody of March of the Penguins.

    The Far Left (UK, 2009), directed by Adam Nicholas, a parody of documentaries by Louis Theroux, a fictitious film maker named Peter Jenkiss follows the life of a far left activist and his accomplice.

    Fear of a Black Hat (US, 1994), follows the fictional rap group, “N.W.H.”, as it evolves with the genre from its popular origins to the advent of gangsta rap.

    Fellowship of the Dice (film), story of a first time gamer’s introduction to the Role-playing game world.

    Finishing the Game, The story of the search for the “new” Bruce Lee to finish “The Game of Death”.

    First on the Moon (Первые на Луне or Pervye na Lune) (Russia, 2005), Venice Film Festival winner. A mockumentary about the first Russian spaсe voyage, supposedly accomplished in 1938. Mixes archival footage and fake KGB materials.

    Forgotten Silver (New Zealand, 1995), A film by Costa Botes and Peter Jackson, parody of a historical documentary about a “forgotten” filmmaker.

    FUBAR (Canada, 2002), A film by Michael Dowse, a mockumentary that has achieved cult status about head-banger subculture, especially within Canada.

    Fudge 44 (Ireland, 2005), A film by Graham Jones, a mockumentary about six puppets in a financially impoverished Tokyo children’s puppet theatre who, locals believe, came to life and robbed a nearby bank to avoid being put out of business.

    Gamers: The Movie (US, 2006), A film by Chris Folino, an award-winning mockumentary about players trying to set a record for playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like ironically[citation needed] cast with 80’s film stars.

    Get Ready to be Boyzvoiced (Norway, 2000), a film following fictional Norwegian boy band Boyzvoice.

    Good Arrows (UK, 2009), a mockumentary about Welsh darts player.

    G-SALE (US, 2003), A film by Randy Nargi, scripted mockumentary about garage sale fanatics.

    Hard Core Logo (Canada, 1996), following in the tradition of This Is Spinal Tap, this film traces the final tour of an overaged punk band, and serves as a model for the death of “true” punk rock. The film’s associated album, A Tribute to Hard Core Logo, has several notable bands performing cover versions of Hard Core Logo songs, and is packaged as if Hard Core Logo were a real band.

    The Heavenly Kings (Hong Kong, 2006), a film following the Cantopop boy band Alive, fronted by Daniel Wu (who also directed the film).

    How to Irritate People, the 1968 “guide” written mostly by John Cleese and featuring Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Connie Booth.

    Incident at Loch Ness (US, 2004), the tale of all hell breaking loose as famous filmmaker Werner Herzog attempts to make a documentary about the Nessie myth while a documentary about his life is being filmed and a pigheaded producer (Zak Penn) tries his damndest to make Herzog’s film a mindless high-grossing blockbuster.

    It’s All Gone Pete Tong (UK, Canada, 2004), a comedy following the tragic life of legendary DJ Frankie Wilde. The story takes us through Frankie’s life from one of the best DJ’s alive, through subsequent battle with a hearing disorder, culminating in his mysterious disappearance from the scene.

    Kenny (Australia 2006), the life of a portable toilet installer in Melbourne, Australia.

    The Last Polka, John Candy and Eugene Levy mockumentary about the last concert of the Shmenge Brothers, a Leutonian Polka duet whose characters were first developed on Second City Television.

    LolliLove (USA, 2004), a story about a husband and wife team, played by James Gunn and Jenna Fischer, who form a charity to give each homeless person a lollipop with a cheery slogan on the wrapper, but who are really only serving themselves.

    Man Bites Dog (Belgium, 1992), Rémy Belvaux black comedy/satire in which a film crew follows a serial killer documenting his crimes.

    Man of the Year (USA, 1995), a satirical look, directed by former Playgirl magazine Man of the Year Dirk Shafer, at his reign as Man of the Year as a closeted gay man.

    Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful (US, 1992), a “behind the scenes” exposé of pop singer and sex symbol Medusa, on her “Blonde Leading the Blonde” concert tour.

    A Mighty Wind (US, 2003), story of three groups of folk singers who come together at a tribute concert in honor of their recently deceased manager.

    Mike Bassett: England Manager (UK, 2001), the fortunes of a lacklustre England football manager in the World Cup.

    Never Been Thawed (US 2005) a film about a society of people who collect frozen TV dinners.

    The Old Negro Space Program, mockumentary about the fictional “NASSA” or “Negro American Space Society of Astronauts”, lampooning far-reaching racial segregation in the United States; subtitled “the shocking but false story of America’s blackstronauts”.

    Otaku no Video (Japan, 1991), an anime film by Gainax featuring live-action news segments of events past the film’s 1985 release date.

    The Progressives – The Film (2005), satirical documentary about London band The Progressives.

    Pure Pwnage, an Internet-distributed show about a gamer followed around by his brother created by Geoff Lapaire, and Jarett Cale.

    R2-D2: Beneath the Dome, the career of supposed real-life actor R2-D2, who was played in reality by Kenny Baker and puppeteer Don Bies, co-director of this mockumentary.

    Real Life (US, 1979), Albert Brooks directs a documentary about a year in the life of an average American family (headed by Charles Grodin).

    Steamin’ and Dreamin': The Grandmaster Cash Story, a comedy mockumentary that follows the exploits of Cork hip-hop artist Grandmaster Cash.

    Surf’s Up, an animated mockumentary that follows the progress of a surfer penguin named Cody Maverick as he enters a surfing competition.

    Take the Money and Run (US, 1969), the second film directed by Woody Allen, in which Allen plays an ambitious but clumsy burglar.

    This Is Spinal Tap (US, 1984), follows a (fake) British rock band on tour long past their salad days.

    Waiting for Guffman (US, 1996), a small Missouri town’s celebration of its sesquicentennial.

    Yacht Rock, a mockumentary series on adult contemporary music during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    Zelig, a mockumentary by Woody Allen about a man who changes his physical appearance in order to fit in.

    Off the Cuff (2009), a mockumentary about the Chicago improv scene. Produced by husband wife team Brent Kado and Jessica Hardy. Off the Cuff at the Internet Movie Database.

    Welcome to Gentle Waters (2010), a mockumentary about a rehab retreat center in North Lake, IN. Second film by husband wife team Brent Kado and Jessica Hardy.

    • Did you copy and paste this from wikipedia lol?

      • and as i said before ,mockumentries are fine as long as it is known ahead of time that it is a mockdumentary.

      • @ suuly311

        LOL! I did state that I copied the list from Wikipedia to point out that the mockumentary genre is nothing new.

        I have also stated in other posts that mockumentaries were an integral part of my Screen Studies program at University and some of what is mentioned on Wikipedia is fairly accurate to what was taught in Screen Studies.

        • Sorry I meant to type sully311

          • It’s all good homie! I comend your quest for examples! Very well throught out ! :)

            • @ sully311

              That’s cool. Thanks :-)

    • The difference between the films you listed and the kinds described in this article is that the the mockumemtaries you are talking about were not intended to be interpreted as true documentaries.

      • @ neontiger21

        What about “The Blair Witch Project” or some of Michael Moore’s documentaries. Didn’t they stretch the truth in an attempt to be perceived as (true documentaries) ?

        Mockumentaries tell a fictitious account. They are either made for comedic purposes (hoaxes or satire), or to achieve a dramatic effect by making a fictitious story feel more “real” than it really is, which is what “I’m Still Here” attempted to do.

        • Oh true. The Blair Witch Project is a valid point.
          Michael Moore’s films are not mockumentaries though. Are they biased? Maybe. But so is any other documentary trying to prove a political point. If they didn’t have a strong opinion they wouldn’t have made the documentary.

        • Magnetic Eye,

          I agree with you regarding Michael Moore, but I can assure you that the intent of his films are to be considered most definitely serious, factual documentaries.


          • Vic

            True. I agree in regards to Michael Moore. Good points. I guess I was clutching at straws in trying to use him as an example.

            I do enjoy his serious yet tongue in cheek approach to making documentaries. :-)

            • I would also like to point out that there are at least that many listings and titles in the Jerry Springer Archives which I will also not be using my good time to watch.

              That list of Mockumentaries was quite the display but there are only a few that really stand the test of time and carry their own legend on the back of the horse they rode in on. Most mockumentaries are dependent upon the value of ‘the other’ thing that they copied or mocked. If we reviewed the list and pulled out the non-derivative films there would be only a handful that stand on their own.

              Not sure that ‘Im still here’ is the sort of mockumentary which is meant for the big screen as opposed to something that is purely a youtube reference for derivative purposes…

              Sorry to say it but a day in the life of Doubting Thomas is not worth my dollar…

  4. The problem is that this was no hoax, and was by no means a “mockumentary.” Phoenix is just trying to salvage his reputation by claiming that he was just kidding.

    I think this is pitiful, and that Phoenix should be a man and take responsibility for his breakdown and admit that he was simply having a crisis, and that he would like to get back into acting.

    By the way, I’ve heard too many people calling Joaquin Phoenix a “genius” recently for putting out this piece of crap. Even if he was faking all this stuff (which he wasn’t) I’m Still Here was a piece of crap. Joaquin Phoenix is a mediocre actor who just happened to be cast in a series of very good roles. And that Johnny Cash album that he did wasn’t great…it was ok at best, but it wasn’t anything musically significant by any means.

    I think Phoenix should act like a man and admit that he was having a midlife crisis, apologize, and then try to get back into acting. But trying to state that this was all a hoax now is just cowardice.


  5. TRE rattles her sabre and looks for the horizon… I smell historical fiction in Joachin’s future… There is a life beyond the big lights and a world which needs honest men with the heart to stay the course…. Stay the Course!

    Rousing speech Mateo…. now the question is going to be what will Mr. Phoenix find noble in his musings as a post-hobo and pre-prolo celebrity. Its all about the tools a man decides to place in his hands…

  6. Mag/Eye, there was a funny Roswell mocumentary that didn’t make that list. I can’t remember the exact title but it was very well done.

    “Dark Side of the Moon” wasn’t a mocumentary. Some people might believe that it was based on the information presented, but it wasn’t. (Briefy,) the documentary explained that Nixon had to film the moon landing in an controlled fashion to insure that nothing would prevent it from being seen on worldwide tv.
    Nixon remarked that if the broadcast didn’t succeed going to the moon was pointless. The documentary claims and provides interviews that CIA, used the “2010” movie moon set to film the landing.

    The claim isn’t that the moon landing never took place, only that the footage was shot on earth.

    • @ 790

      If it’s the one I’m thinking of it was called “The Roswell Incident”. I remember seeing it around the mid nineties.

      That list isn’t a comprehensive one. It’s just one I copied from Wikipedia. There would probably be quite a few more mockumentaries that could be added to that list. :-)

  7. No Mag Eye, is wasn’t that bs fake autopsy crap. This was a quality independent film/comedy/documentary that came out a few years ago.

    It covered the weekend trip of a reporter who attends the Roswell anniversary for the weekend. It hilarious. I just can’t remember the title and the disc is somewhere buried in storage.

    (Like the craft itself,,,lol)

    • @ 790

      I just did a quick Google search. Is it “Under Cover History: The Real Roswell” by National Geographic? It came out in either 2005 or 2007.

      The other one I found on Amazon. It’s called “Six Days in Roswell” released in 1999.

      Didn’t realize there was so much stuff on Roswell. :-)

  8. 790

    When you remember that title let me know. I have to see that!

  9. Bingo!!!!

    That’s it Mag/Eye, “Six Days in Roswell” Sully. That’s the one to netflix,,,


    Hilarious film. The Spinal Tap of UFo documentaries.

  10. Hello there, just stopped by doing some research for my Brooks Brothers website. Amazing the amount of information on the web. Not quite what i was looking for, but cool site. Take care.

  11. I have been bed ridden with pneumonia this month of Oct. 2013. Bored to death with day time TV, I decided to cruise the documentaries on Show Time and HBO. I came upon this supposed documentary. I was very intrigued, felt horribly bad for Joaquin and was totally, emotionally drained at the end. As I lay there, I wondered about his current well being so I googled him. After reading all that I have regarding being a “mockumentary” as opposed to a documentary, I feel terribly deceived and strongly feel fake documentaries should NOT be listed along with the truthful documentaries wherein people have the courage to put their true lives in front of the public on film to better educate us regarding the realities of life. I have to say that now I am pissed and saddened at Joaquin and Casey because they have ruined it for me with regards to ever believeing another documentary presented by HBO or SHO.