Exploring the Sub-genre Mockumentary


Joon Echols, Senior Staff Writer


What do Paranormal Activity, I, Tonya, and Death to 2020 all have in common? Well, they’re all movies so maybe that’s it? Not exactly, you can name as many possible connections as you think there are, and yet, you’d still be wrong. What these genres have in common is that of the sub-genre that they fall under, mockumentaries.


A Brief Explanation

Right off the bat you’re probably confused, “what is a mockumentary?” It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. Between “mock”, to make fun of, and “documentary”, an informative movie, tv show, etc; a mockumentary is literally just that, “a documentary-style work meant to put a subject into a more comedic light”.


Examples of the Word

The perfect example of this is “The Office”. What a surprise! There’s an actual name for works like this!

Shows like “The Office”, both the UK and US version, and “Parks and Recreation” are focused around the workplace atmosphere. At one pont or another, they highlight typical workplace issues, like racism and sexual harrassment. Yet while addressing such serious issues these shows never lose their sense of humor. 


Comedic Satire

They’re realistic, exceptionally so. Compared to “Tour de Pharmacy”, a mockumentary about the use of drugs in the Tour de France, this film doesn’t take itself very seriously. 

It attempts to be that every now and then but with a cast of Andy Samberg, John Cena, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, and more it’s hard for any scene to remain “serious” for too long. I suspect if the plot wasn’t specifically stated no one would be able to tell what this “documentary is about; even then you may be too busy laughing to notice.

This actually reads very close to a real documentary, or a pseudo-documentary. 


Similar to

The only difference between the two is that pseudo-documentaries don’t portray real events, everything is purely fiction with minimal ties to actual events. Most mockumentaries follow this pattern.


Sub-genre of a Sub-genre

On the other side of the mockumentary spectrum, is the sub-genre found footage; a main staple of the horror genre, and rarely anything else. Oftentimes the two are confused for each other making found footage a very broad and overused term, but I can simplify this; once again just take a look at the makeup of the word. Found footage, video “footage” that’s usually been “found” by someone outside of the situation.


The Difference of

To be realistic, pseudo-documentary is a better alternative to mockumentary than found footage.

The famous “short” film series Borat is based in the real country of Kazakhstan but the portrayal of said country is greatly exaggerated. While the journey of Borat as a foreigner in the US holds some truth, especially the second movie, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, that’s set in the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, that doesn’t make it a “true story” movie. This would be a mockumentary.

“What We Do In The Shadows”, both the movie and the tv show, is a “documentary” that revolves around the average life of vampires in the US. Each character has an entry theme, is seen wearing microphones, and constantly talking/referring to the film crew off-screen; occasionally the camera will pan to the people “documenting” this outright. Despite it being easy to say that one of the vampires was involved in a historical event, this is never done, to make things more “realistic”; that not everything leads back to some great disaster or tragedy. Alternatively, this is a pseudo-documentary.



Now while we all deserve a good laugh not everyone watches these shows for their comedy. Not every mockumentary is a satire, some would rather take on the topic of real-life drama and events. 

Think about Modern Family. It’s also a mockumentary, but about the struggles of family life from having a baby/becoming a sibling to being accepted/going to college. An episode may not be the exact copy of  a real person’s experience in life, but it’s so familiar and close to that natural spirit that people are drawn to it. Which doesn’t make it any less of a mockumentary than the others.


In the End

The purpose of a mockumentary is up to each individual, what I may find funny, you may not, but that’s ok. In the end it’s just a film. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter; just as long as you enjoyed watching it, that’s all that matters.