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Moana, by Robert Flaherty, the first docufiction in film history (1926)

Docufiction (or docu-fiction), often confused with docudrama, is the cinematographic combination of documentary and fiction, this term often meaning narrative film.[1]

It is a film genre[2] 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.[3]

More precisely, it is a documentary contaminated with fictional elements,[4] in real time,[5] filmed when the events take place, and in which the main character or characters — often portrayed by non-professional or amateur actors — are essentially playing themselves, or slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, in a fictionalized scenario. In this sense, docu fiction may overlap to an extent with some aspects of the mockumentary format, but the terms are not synonymous.

A film genre in expansion, it is adopted by a number of experimental filmmakers.

The new term docufiction[6] 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.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Either in cinema or television, docufiction is, anyway, a film genre in full development during the first decade of this century.

The word docufiction is also sometimes used to refer to literary journalism (creative nonfiction).[16]

Docudrama and mockumentary[edit]

In contrast, docudrama is usually a fictional and dramatized recreation[17] 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)[18] 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.[19] Whereas mockumentaries are usually fully scripted comedies or dramas that merely adopt some aspects of documentary format as a framing device, docufictions are usually not scripted, instead placing the participants in a fictionalized scenario while portraying their own genuine reactions and their own improvisational dialogue and character development.


The term involves a way of making films already practiced by such authors as Robert Flaherty, one of the fathers of documentary,[20][21] and Jean Rouch, later in the 20th century.

Being both fiction and documentary,[22] docufiction is a hybrid genre,[23] raising ethical problems[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] 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[31] allows one to consider him as the father of a subgenre called ethnofiction,[32][33] this term means: ethnographic documentary film with natives who play fictional roles. Making them play a role about themselves will help portray reality, which[34] 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[edit]

Other notable examples[edit]

See more at

Hybrid pictures[edit]

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). This term was coined by him at the end of the decade of 1990, when he led film sessions at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, together with Germaine Dieterlen and Brice Ahounou.[54] The use of the word ethnofiction was suggested by Ahounou to designate a new genre in visual anthropology and accepted by Rouch and Dieterlen.

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 ethnofiction would be ranged as subgenre. Docufiction 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.[55] 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[56] and aesthetics,[57] i.e., fidelity to truth and reality,[58][59] 2. signifiers and connotations, i.e., forms of expression picturing facts in an illustrative or allusive way, unveiling facets of human life.

Extreme docufiction[edit]

Modernity is, by definition, the motor that made docufition cross a new frontier and find land to grow, a wide territory governed by ambiguous characters, in real or fictional narratives, who exceed themselves in extreme situations.

Things went really wrong for the first time in History (and in the history of docufition as well) with a sad story: Children of Hiroshima (1952), survivals of a colossal tragedy caused by crazed agents (see Ward Wilson), a story of revenge starred by actants like The Great Artiste and the Necessary Evil. Children of Hiroshima tells the story of the effects of the first atomic bombs thrown on innocent people, of tremendous explosions which imploded in cathartic effects, of devastation and suffering, in pictures of great beauty. Face to stories like these (like those of a Greek tragedy), one must submit to an extreme requirement: such things must not be done. Aesthetics, more than ethics, has the power to impose similar prescripts.

In same style, but unavoidably in much lower scale, new attempts have been made to cause such effects. Subsequent films would arise less pathos, among which certain would reveal a more acute understanding of modern realities.[60][61] 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? [62] (See: Postmodernist film)

Illustration and allusion ("recording" and "interpretation" [63]) 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”,[64] the signifier.[65] Allusion represents subjective matter.

Robert Flaherty used to 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.[66][67][68][69][70][71] As well seduced by such charms, Jean Rouch, a scientist before everything else, ventured to go further in extreme attempts. Using "neutral lenses" (a neutral perspective) 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.[69][70][71]

The stories these adventurers tell about such encounters are cryptic and highlight an uncomfortable paradox that haunts them all in different ways,[72] it affects audiences someway.[73]

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, local realities: 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 [74] e.g.(autobiographies, city portraits, no budget films, metafilms, docu-comedies in extreme). Both tendencies will survive. Mutant realities will make them vary.[75][76][77]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reality and documentary – at Six Types Of Documentary, article by Girish Shambu (blog)
  2. ^ An Introduction to Genre Theory Archived November 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. by Daniel Chandler at Aberystwyth University
  3. ^ A creative treatment of actuality – article by Peter Biesterfeld at Videomaker, 08/07/2015
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ , Docufiction in the Digital Age – Thesis by Tay Huizhen, National University of Singapore
  6. ^ What is docufiction? – See Section II, pages 37 to 75 (four chapters) Archived September 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. of the thesis by Prof. Theo Mäusli
  7. ^ Indie Matra Bhumi (The Motherland)Cannes Film Festival
  8. ^ Ablel Ferrara’s docufiction Archived January 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. – Venice Film Festival
  9. ^ The Savage Eye: White Docu-Fiction & Black Reality Archived September 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. at Tribeca Film Festival
  10. ^ Brian De Palma's On His Iraq Docu-Fiction Comeback at The Huffington PostToronto International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival
  11. ^ Darius Mehrjui’s film Diamond 33Venice Film Festival
  12. ^ New Film EventsLondon Short Film Festival
  13. ^ Oscilloscope 'Howl' for Off Beat Docu-Fiction Sundance Selection Archived December 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. at Ion Cinema
  14. ^ Docufiction at several film festivals
  15. ^ See: Hybrids (fiction/nonfiction films) at External links
  16. ^ Tate Triennial 2009: Altermodern – 'Docufiction'
  17. ^ See Docudrama: the real (his)tory Confusion of genres – Page 2 on the thesis by Çiçek Coşkun (New York University School of Education)
  18. ^ From "mock + documentary" – definition at The Free Dictionary
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Definition of documentary – New Frontiers in American documentary (American Studies at The University of Virginia)
  21. ^ The Impulse of Documentary-Fiction Archived March 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. – Paper at Transart Institute Archived 2011-08-31 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ See hybrid genre Archived September 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. – page 50, thesis on docufiction by Prof. Theo Mäusli
  24. ^ Open-ended Realities – article by Luciana Lang at Latineos
  25. ^ The appeal of hybrid documentary forms in West Africa at Project Muse
  26. ^ Ethics and Documentary Filmmaking – Article by Marty Lucas at Center for Social Media (American University in Washington, D.C)
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ What to Do About Documentary Distortion? Toward a Code of Ethics – Article by Bill Nichols at
  29. ^ Documentary Film Prompts-Ethics in Documentary/Fiction vs. Documentary – Paper by Ardavon Naimi at University of Texas at Dallas
  30. ^ Ethics and Filmmaking in Developing Countries at Unite For Sight
  31. ^ Jean Rouch 1917-2004, A Valediction – Article by Michael Eaton at Rouge
  32. ^ Glossary at MAITRES_FOUS.NET
  33. ^ Jean Rouch and the Genesis of Ethnofiction, thesis by Brian Quist, Long Island University
  34. ^ "Ethnofiction: drama as a creative research practice in ethnographic film." Journal of Media Practice 9, no. 3(2008), eScholarID:1b5648, article by Johannes Sjöberg
  35. ^ Why 'Moana,' the First Docufiction in History, Deserves a New Life – article by Laya Maheshwari at Indiewire, July 3, 2014
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ See Maria do Mar at IMdb
  38. ^ See L'Or des mers at IMdb
  39. ^ Zombie and the Ghost Train (1991)Review/Film Festival; How a Zombie Became One With Alcohol and Self-Pity
  40. ^ "Chicago Cinema Forum". 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  41. ^ India: Matri Bhumi Archived September 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. – Article by Doug Cummings at F i l m j o u r n e y (March 18th, 2007)
  42. ^ Digitally cleaned 'India, Matri Bhumi' screened at Vienna film festival – Article at IBN Live
  43. ^ Christopher, Rob (2007-08-29). "Q: What Do You Call a Movie That's Getting Its Chicago Premiere 48 Years After Being Made?". Chicagoist. Archived from the original on 2013-06-28. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  44. ^ The Human Pyramid at IMdb.
  45. ^ See Acto da Primavera
  46. ^ I clowns: Fellini's Mockumentary – article at The Artifice
  47. ^ Revue by Jamie Havlin at Louder than War
  48. ^ Frames from scenes at MMM
  49. ^ See Trevico-Torino (viaggio nel Fiat-Nam at IMdb
  50. ^ See Gente da Praia da Vieira
  51. ^ Trás-os-Montes at Harvard Film Archive
  52. ^ António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro at UCLA
  53. ^ Rep Pick: Ana – Review by Aaron Cutler at The L Magazine
  54. ^ Brice Ahounou, journalist, anthropologist and film programmer
  55. ^ Exploring Objectivity in Docufiction Filmmaking through the Concept of Hybridity – Abstract at Eleanorforder, August 7, 2014
  56. ^ Why are ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking? – chapter one from Introduction to Documentary by Bill Nichols, Indiana University Press
  57. ^ Aesthetics defined by Encyclopædia Britannica
  58. ^ Reality in the Age of Aesthetics Archived November 26, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. – Article at Frieze, Issue 114, April 2008
  59. ^ Documentary-for-the-Other: Relationships, Ethics and (Observational) Documentary – Article by Kate Nash, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 26:224–239, 2011
  60. ^ Postmodernism and film – CONSTABLE, CATHERINE. Postmodernism and Film: Rethinking Hollywood's Aesthestics. Columbia University Press, 2015. JSTOR,
  61. ^ Postmodern Theory – module 4 at University of Mionesota
  62. ^ Postmodern Cinema – article by Ana Night
  63. ^ 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)
  64. ^ Representant at The Free Dictionary
  65. ^ Signifier and Signified
  66. ^ Robert Flaherty – article by Deane Williams at Senses of Cinema
  67. ^ 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
  68. ^ Flaherty/Vertov : two founding masters, two traditions – article at klerichar
  69. ^ a b Knowing Images: Jean Rouch’s Ethnography – chapter on Jean Rouch at
  70. ^ a b A Tribute to Jean Rouch – article by Paul Stoller at Rouge
  71. ^ a b Jean Rouch's Ciné-Ethnography: at the conjunction of research, poetry and politics – article by Lorraine Mortimer at Screenig the Past
  72. ^ The Paradox of Aesthetic Meaning – article by Lucius Garvin at Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Sep., 1947), pp. 99-106
  73. ^ What is the difference between documentary and feature film? – article at Video University
  74. ^ Drifts
  75. ^ 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
  76. ^ Avant-Garde Realism – article by Nicholas Rombes Archived December 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. – at, January 19, 2005
  77. ^ Reality Ink: When Nonfiction Film Meets Experimental Cinema – article by Cynthia Close, April 15, 2015

Sources and bibliography[edit]

THESES online



  • (in English) Paget, Derek (1998). No Other Way to Tell It. Dramadoc/docudrama on television. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-4533-2. 
  • (in English) Rosenthal, Alan (199). Why Docudrama? : Fact-Fiction on Film and TV. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-2186-5. 
  • (in 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. 

External links[edit]

Recent hybrid films since 2000 (comments)