It is a film genre which attempts to capture reality such as it is (as direct cinema or cinéma vérité) and which simultaneously introduces unreal elements or fictional situations in narrative in order to strengthen the representation of reality using some kind of artistic expression.
More precisely, it is a documentary contaminated with fictional elements, in real time, filmed when the events take place, and in which someone – the character – plays his own role in real life. A film genre in expansion, it is adopted by a number of experimental filmmakers.
The new term docufiction appeared at the beginning of the 21st century. It is now commonly used in several languages and widely accepted for classification by international film festivals. Either in cinema or television, docufiction is, anyway, a film genre in full development during the first decade of this century.
Docudrama and mockumentary
In contrast, docudrama is usually a fictional and dramatized recreation of factual events in form of a documentary, at a time subsequent to the "real" events it portrays. A docudrama is often confused with docufiction when drama is considered interchangeable with fiction (both words meaning the same). Typically however, "docudrama" refers specifically to telefilms or other television media recreations that dramatize certain events often with actors.
A mockumentary (etymology: mock documentary) is also a film or television show in which fictitious events are presented in documentary format, sometimes a recreation of factual events after they took place or a comment on current events, typically satirical, comedic or even dramatic (see genres: drama versus comedy and tragedy). Portraying events at an ulterior time and basically using fictional narrative such as docudrama, it should not be confused with docufiction as well.
Being both fiction and documentary, docufiction is a hybrid genre, raising ethical problems concerning truth, since reality may be manipulated and confused with fiction (see Ethics at creative non-fiction).
In the domain of visual anthropology, the innovating role of Jean Rouch allows one to consider him as the father of a subgenre called ethnofiction. This term means: ethnographic documentary film with natives who play fictional roles. Making them play a role about themselves will help portray reality, which will be reinforced with imagery. A non ethnographic documentary with fictional elements uses the same method and, for the same reasons, may be called docufiction.
First docufictions by country
- 1926: United States – Moana Robert Flaherty,
- 1930: Portugal – Maria do Mar by Leitão de Barros
- 1932: France – L'or des mers by Jean Epstein
- 1948: Italy – La Terra Trema by Luchino Visconti
- 1952: Japan – Children of Hiroshima by Kaneto Shindo
- 1963: Canada – Pour la suite du monde (Of Whales, the Moon and Men) by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault
- 1981: Morocco – Transes (fr) by Ahmed El Maânouni
- 1988: Guiné-Bissau – Mortu Nega (Death denied) by Flora Gomes
- 1990: Iran – Close-up by Abbas Kiarostami
- 1991: Finland – Zombie and the Ghost Train by Mika Kaurismäki (See review at NYT)
- 2002: Brasil – City of God by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund
- 2005: Iraq – Underexposure by Oday Rasheed
Other notable examples
- 1931: Tabu by Robert Flaherty and F.W. Murnau (USA)
- 1934: Man of Aran by Robert Flaherty (USA)
- 1942: Ala-Arriba! (film) by Leitão de Barros (Portugal)
- 1948: Louisiana Story by Robert Flaherty (USA)
- 1956: On the Bowery by Lionel Rogosin (USA)
- 1958: Moi, un noir (Me, A Black Man) by Jean Rouch (France)
- 1958/59 Indie Matra Bhumi (The Motherland) by Roberto Rossellini, released 2007 (Italy)
- 1959: Come Back, Africa by Lionel Rogosin (USA)
- 1961: La pyramide humaine (The Human Pyramid) by Jean Rouch (France)
- 1962: Rite of Spring by Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal)
- 1964: Belarmino by Fernando Lopes (Portugal)
- 1967: David Holzman's Diary by Jim McBride
- 1970: The Clowns by Federico Fellini
- 1973: Trevico-Torino (viaggio nel Fiat-Nam) by Ettore Scola (Italy)
- 1974: Orderers, by Michel Brault
- 1974: Montreal Main, by Frank Vitale
- 1976: Changing Tides, by Ricardo Costa (Portugal)
- 1976: People from Praia da Vieira by António Campos (Portugal)
- 1976: Trás-os-Montes by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro (Portugal)
- 1979: Bread and Wine by Ricardo Costa (Portugal)
- 1982: Ana by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro (Portugal)
- 1982: After the Axe, by Sturla Gunnarsson (Canada)
- 1990: The Company of Strangers by Cynthia Scott (Canada)
- 1991: Life, and Nothing More by Abbas Kiarostami (Iran)
- 2000: In Vanda's Room by Pedro Costa (Portugal)
- 2002: Ten by Abbas Kiarostami (Iran)
- 2005: Alien Planet by Wayne Douglas Barlowe (USA)
- 2006: Colossal Youth by Pedro Costa (Portugal)
- 2008: Our Beloved Month of August by Miguel Gomes (Portugal)
- 2009: The Mouth of the Wolf by Pietro Marcello (Italy)
- 2013: Closed Curtain by Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi (Iran)
- 2015: Taxi by Jafar Panahi (Iran)
- 2016: Drifts by Ricardo Costa (Portugal)
See more at
Filmic depictions of ethnic groups became a current practice since Flaherty shot Nanook of the North in 1922 (the first feature-length documentary in film history, a docudrama) and since, under its influence, Jean Rouch pioneered ethnofiction with Moi un noir (1958, foreshadowing the French New Wave) and coined this term as a new genre in visual anthropology. Subsequently, the concept of ethnofiction (ethnography+fiction) would exceed scientific practice and, by analogy, give rise to a wider designation (docufiction: documentary+fiction) in which it would be ranged as subgenre. Such designation would then be used to classify films that early emerged in several countries, directly under Flaherty’s influence or indirectly by occasional resemblance, in both cases with no correlation and with significant differences in form and contents. On one hand hybridity became one of the criteria that joined documentary and fiction in a single concept. On the other hand, persons playing their own roles in real life and in real time is another that gave basement to it. Both these requirements are closely associated with two other in the practice of docufiction: 1. ethics and aesthetics, i.e., fidelity to truth and reality, 2. signifiers and connotations, i.e., forms of expression picturing facts in an illustrative or allusive way, unveiling facets of human life.
Modernity is the motor that made docufition cross a new frontier and find land to grow, a large territory governed by ambiguous figures who face each other. Sometimes they empathize. Others they go angry. They exceed themselves in extreme situations.
Things went wrong for the first time with a sad story: Children of Hiroshima (1952), survivals of a colossal tragedy, a story of revenge starred by The Great Artiste and by the Necessary Evil. A story of tremendous explosions which imploded in cathartic effects, devastation and suffering in pictures of great beauty, in black and white. Face to it, one must submit to an extreme requirement: such things must not be done.
In same style and much lower scale, new attempts have been made to cause similar effects. In different style and in diverse scales, others would be made to arise less pathos and more acute understanding of modern realities. How far can they go? How far author vanities injure spectators? Will this perverse fashion have a future? Films like these have been few. Will be many those which follow? Will they fit to modern definitions? (See: Postmodernist film)
Illustration and allusion ("recording" and "interpretation") are the poles of two different forms of mirroring reality, either in film or any other art. Illustration techniques are objective and implicate a concern of fidelity to what they represent, to the “representant”, the signifier. Allusion represents subjective matter.
Robert Flaherty would illustrate the realities he pictured with appealing aesthetics, realities that touched naïve audiences thirsty of alluring landscapes: exotic natives, beautiful and noble savages from dream countries faraway. He showed them with strong images, conceived to please large audiences and greedy producers. As well seduced by such charms, Jean Rouch, a scientist before everything else, ventured to go further in extreme attempts. Using neutral lenses and a quite different sense of poetry, he went shooting blacks in mysterious countries of Africa with the noble intent of discovering who they are and what they mean. He submitted to confrontation in both fronts: reducing aesthetics to images with no pretention and ethics to strict principles, indispensable to bring up truth.
From different countries, others try the same. For strong reasons, a few dare to go beyond the limits they should keep, turning documentary into irreducible fiction, into fantasy with no return: The 1001 Nights , Horse Money e.g., in radical approaches but different moods (reveries, dramas, country paradigms). Others, in matching moods and similar attempts, afraid to veer, set foot on redlines without scalding, using subtle tricks, ingredients with less burning effects: Taxi, Drifts e.g.(autobiographies, city portraits, no budget films, metafilms, docu-comedies in extreme). Both tendencies will survive. Mutant realities will make them vary.
- Reality and documentary – at Six Types Of Documentary, article by Girish Shambu (blog)
- An Introduction to Genre Theory by Daniel Chandler at Aberystwyth University
- A creative treatment of actuality – article by Peter Biesterfeld at Videomaker, 08/07/2015
- Il difficile rapporto tra fiction e non fiction che si concretizza nella docu-fiction (The difficult relationship between fiction and non-fiction patent in docufiction) – thesis in Italian by Laura Marchesi, Faculty of Communication Sciences (Università degli Studi di Pavia) at Tesionline, 2005/06
- , Docufiction in the Digital Age – Thesis by Tay Huizhen, National University of Singapore
- What is docufiction? – See Section II, pages 37 to 75 (four chapters) of the thesis by Prof. Theo Mäusli
- Indie Matra Bhumi (The Motherland) – Cannes Film Festival
- Ablel Ferrara’s docufiction – Venice Film Festival
- The Savage Eye: White Docu-Fiction & Black Reality at Tribeca Film Festival
- Brian De Palma's On His Iraq Docu-Fiction Comeback at The Huffington Post – Toronto International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival
- Darius Mehrjui’s film Diamond 33 – Venice Film Festival
- New Film Events – London Short Film Festival
- Oscilloscope 'Howl' for Off Beat Docu-Fiction Sundance Selection at Ion Cinema
- Docufiction at several film festivals
- See: Hybrids (fiction/nonfiction films) at External links
- Tate Triennial 2009: Altermodern – 'Docufiction'
- See Docudrama: the real (his)tory Confusion of genres – Page 2 on the thesis by Çiçek Coşkun (New York University School of Education)
- From "mock + documentary" – definition at The Free Dictionary
- A television programme or film which takes the form of a serious documentary in order to satirize its subject. – definition at The Free Dictionary and Dictionary.com
- Definition of documentary – New Frontiers in American documentary (American Studies at The University of Virginia)
- The Impulse of Documentary-Fiction – Paper at Transart Institute
- (NON)FICTION AND THE VIEWER: RE-INTERPRETING THE DOCUMENTARY FILM – Paper by Tammy Stone, Avila University
- See hybrid genre – page 50, thesis on docufiction by Prof. Theo Mäusli
- Open-ended Realities – article by Luciana Lang at Latineos
- The appeal of hybrid documentary forms in West Africa at Project Muse
- Ethics and Documentary Filmmaking – Article by Marty Lucas at Center for Social Media (American University in Washington, D.C)
- On Ethics and Documentary: A Real and Actual Truth – Article by Garnet C. Butchart at Cultural Studies Program, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, published University of South Florida
- What to Do About Documentary Distortion? Toward a Code of Ethics – Article by Bill Nichols at Documentary.org
- Documentary Film Prompts-Ethics in Documentary/Fiction vs. Documentary – Paper by Ardavon Naimi at University of Texas at Dallas
- Ethics and Filmmaking in Developing Countries at Unite For Sight
- Jean Rouch 1917-2004, A Valediction – Article by Michael Eaton at Rouge
- Glossary at MAITRES_FOUS.NET
- Jean Rouch and the Genesis of Ethnofiction, thesis by Brian Quist, Long Island University
- "Ethnofiction: drama as a creative research practice in ethnographic film." Journal of Media Practice 9, no. 3(2008), eScholarID:1b5648, article by Johannes Sjöberg
- Why 'Moana,' the First Docufiction in History, Deserves a New Life – article by Laya Maheshwari at Indiewire, July 3, 2014
- Note, however, that Flaherty's earlier film, Nanook of the North from 1922, incorporates many docufiction elements, including the "casting" of locals into fictitious "roles" and family relationships, as well as anachronistic hunting scenes.
- See Maria do Mar at IMdb
- See L'Or des mers at IMdb
- Zombie and the Ghost Train (1991)Review/Film Festival; How a Zombie Became One With Alcohol and Self-Pity
- "Chicago Cinema Forum". Cine-file.info. 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- India: Matri Bhumi – Article by Doug Cummings at F i l m j o u r n e y (March 18th, 2007)
- Digitally cleaned 'India, Matri Bhumi' screened at Vienna film festival – Article at IBN Live
- Christopher, Rob (2007-08-29). "Q: What Do You Call a Movie That's Getting Its Chicago Premiere 48 Years After Being Made?". Chicagoist. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- The Human Pyramid at IMdb.
- See Acto da Primavera
- I clowns: Fellini's Mockumentary – article at The Artifice
- Revue by Jamie Havlin at Louder than War
- Frames from scenes at MMM
- See Trevico-Torino (viaggio nel Fiat-Nam at IMdb
- See Gente da Praia da Vieira
- Trás-os-Montes at Harvard Film Archive
- António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro at UCLA
- Rep Pick: Ana – Review by Aaron Cutler at The L Magazine
- Exploring Objectivity in Docufiction Filmmaking through the Concept of Hybridity – Abstract at Eleanorforder, August 7, 2014
- Why are ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking? – chapter one from Introduction to Documentary by Bill Nichols, Indiana University Press
- Aesthetics defined by Encyclopedia Britanica
- Reality in the Age of Aesthetics – Article at Frieze, Issue 114, April 2008
- Documentary-for-the-Other: Relationships, Ethics and (Observational) Documentary – Article by Kate Nash, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 26:224–239, 2011
- Postmodernism and film – definition at Harvard university
- Postmodern Theory – module 4 at University of Mionesota
- Postmodern Cinema – article by Ana Night
- Docufictions: an interview with Martin Scorsese on documentary film by Raffaele Donato (Film History: An International Journal Volume 19, Number 2, 2007 pp. 199-207)
- Representant at The Free Dictionary]
- Signifier and Signified
- Robert Flaherty – article by Deane Williams at Senses of Cinema
- Realism, Romanticism and the Documentary Form: Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran – Chapter 4 of Brian McFarlane, Ed, 24 Frames: The Cinema of Britain and Ireland, Wallflower, 2005
- Flaherty/Vertov : two founding masters, two traditions – article at klerichar
- Knowing Images: Jean Rouch’s Ethnography – chapter on Jean Rouch at MAITRESFOUS.net
- A Tribute to Jean Rouch – article by Paul Stoller at Rouge
- Jean Rouch's Ciné-Ethnography: at the conjunction of research, poetry and politics – article by Lorraine Mortimer at Screenig the Past
- The Paradox of Aesthetic Meaning – article by Lucius Garvin at Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Sep., 1947), pp. 99-106
- What is the difference between documentary and feature film? – article at Video University
- Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality, The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism, ed. P. Adams Sitney (New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1978), pp. 60-73
- Avant-Garde Realism – article by Nicholas Rombes – at Ctheory.net, January 19, 2005
- Reality Ink: When Nonfiction Film Meets Experimental Cinema – article by Cynthia Close, April 15, 2015
Sources and bibliography
- (English) Docufiction in the Digital Age – thesis by Tay Huizhen, National University of Singapore
- (English) The Zulu Mask: The Role of Creative Imagination in Documentary Film – thesis by Clifford Derrick, Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
- (English) Docudrama: the real (his)tory thesis by Çiçek Coşkun (New York University School of Education)
- (English) Issues in contemporary documentary by Jane Chapman at Google Books (pages 1 to 34)
ARTICLES and ESSAYS
- (English) Shaping the Real: Directorial imagination and the visualisation of evidence in the hybrid documentary – article by Janet Merewether at Scan, Media Department at Macquarie University, Sydney
- (English) Docufiction: Where Art and Life Merge and Diverge– Article by Julie Drizin at Makers Quest 2.0
- (English) New Media Documentary – Paper by Gunthar Hartwig
- (English) Docudrama: the real (his)tory
- (English) Panel: At The Edge of Truth: Hybrid Documentaries at Vox Talk magazine
- (English) The dual phase oscillation hypothesis and the neuropsychology of docu-fiction film – article by Dyutiman Mukhopadhyay, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, vol. 16, no. 1, April 2015
- (English) A creative treatment of actuality – paper by Peter Biesterfeld at Videomaker, August 7, 2015
- (English) The art paradox – article by Bert Oliver at Thought Leader, September 17, 2012
- (French) Le documentaire historique au péril du « docufiction – thesis by François Garçon (abstract in English and French)
- (French) 3 questions à…Isabelle Veyrat-Masson – interview (Le Journal du CNRS)
- (French) Peter Watkins, un cinéaste maudit article at Critikat
- (Italian) Un genere cinematografico: la docu-fiction. Il caso di 150 ore a Pavia by Laura Marchesi (thesis – abstract)
- (English) Paget, Derek (1998). No Other Way to Tell It. Dramadoc/docudrama on television. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-4533-2.
- (English) Rosenthal, Alan (199). Why Docudrama? : Fact-Fiction on Film and TV. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-2186-5.
- (English) Lipkin, Steven N., ed. (2002). Real Emotional Logic. Film and Television Docudrama As Persuasive Practice. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-2409-5.
Recent hybrid films since 2000 (comments)
- In Vanda's Room (2001) – review by Cyril Neirat at Cinema Scope
- Mists (2003) – Movie reviews, March, 2011
- Colossal Youth (2006) – review by Manohla Dargis at The New York Times, August 3, 2007
- Our Beloved Month of August (2008) – review by Dennis Lim at The New York Times, August 20, 2010
- The Mouth of the Wolf (2009) – review by Stephen Holden at The New York Times, August 3, 2011
- Closed Curtain (2013) at Rotten Tomatoes
- Taxi (2015) – reviews at The Guardian, November 2015