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Teaching

Mockumentaries: Point of View


Amanda Amanullah


Guiding Questions:
When and why do we use mockumentaries? What are advantages and disadvantages? What
effect do screenwriting, production, and directing decisions have on the scope of the story and
development of point of view?

Introduction:
The concept of mockumentary originated in the 1960s but has been redefined and
transformed over time. As a modern vehicle for storytelling, mockumentaries can be used to
convey many points of view. I think I would start with an early but significant example in my
attempt to teach it. BBCs Panorama broadcasted a 3-minute hoax report on April Fools Day of
1957. It was about a fictitious spaghetti tree in Switzerland. Many viewers in the UK were
unaware that it was pasta (and not a fruit / vegetable) and hundreds of them phoned into BBC
to double check the validity of the story. Decades later, CNN called this the biggest hoax that
any reputable news establishment ever pulled.

Activity:
After watching and analyzing this short video, we would create a Venn Diagram comparing and
contrasting documentaries and mockumentaries. Students would be able to identify features
that are common amongst both genres, but visibly and tactfully be able to differentiate why a
writer or director would choose mockumentary as a style of portrayal.

Pre-Research:
Once students are familiar with the term, I would have us break it down to: mockery and
documentary and discuss documented reasons why we would want to create mockumentaries:

1) Parody or satire the idea that mockumentaries deliberately copy other works in a
comic or satirical way. They implicitly reinforce aspects of popular culture sometimes,
doing it so well that the viewer has to figure out fact from exaggeration from fiction.
2) Critique the idea that mockumentaries are critiques of popular culture. Modern
Family, Parks and Recreation, and The Office can all be seen as critiquing something
about modern or mundane aspects of life.
3) Deconstruction the idea that mockumentaries are working to deconstruct or pull
apart conventions of documentaries.

Research:
Depending on the age group, I would have students work in groups and either assign them a
mockumentary or have them choose one out of my pre-selected list. I would of course have to
approve of the choice. I think an all-encompassing assignment could be focusing on the idea of
point of view and perspective in the mockumentaries, asking ourselves the following research
questions: How is point of view used to convey different perspectives and how does this help
develop the plot of the film. I would definitely scaffold some of this and introduce concepts with
examples. Concepts for this lesson would be dead pan interviews, everyday observational
sequences, awareness of the camera, and real-life settings. I would focus on these aspects
specifically, to help them build up critical thoughts and analysis about character portrayal
related to the style of mockumentaries. What do we learn about characters on camera and
off camera? Do we see another layer of their identity? How does this play into character
development?



Teaching Mockumentaries: Point of View
By: Amanda Amanullah


For logistics and project parameters:
1) If choosing a feature-length or short film, students would watch the entire film.
2) If choosing a series or show, students would watch the first 3-5 episodes (depending on
length of episode).
3) Students would then present their findings to the class in the form of a presentation,
almost like a teach-in, answering the research questions through visuals and speaking.
4) Students do not have to stick to these foundational versions of research questions, but
can complicate their theses as they dig deeper into the material. We only ask that it
relate to point of view and characters.

Examples:
The Office: The show leans towards the portrayal of an awkward and distanced relationship of
coworkers. Characters often winked at the camera when someone else was not watching and
we heard side conversations in audible whispers. The commitment to these aspects supported
the style of narrative and the humor of mocking a bland, boring office space.

Parks and Recreation: The show actively utilized the concept of interviewing to reveal
characters motives and shift the scope of the story:

Road Trip [Season 3, Episode 4]

Ron: It's never too early to learn that the government is a greedy piglet that suckles on the taxpayers' teat
until they have sore, chapped nipples. ...I'm gonna need a different metaphor to give this nine year old.


Eagleton [Season 3, Episode 12]

Ron: I don't like loud noises and people making a fuss. And I especially don't like people celebrating because
they know a piece of private information about me. Plus the whole thing is a scam: birthdays w ere invented
by Hallmark to sell cards.
Eagleton [Season 3, Episode 12]

Leslie: Ron refuses to tell anyone when his birthday is; he's even had it redacted on all government
documents. Three years of investigations, phone calls, Freedom of Information Act requests, and I still had
nothing. Until, a well placed bribe to a gentleman at Baskin Robins revealed... Ron's birthday is on Friday!


In the first example (Season 3, Episode 4) we see a very Ron-specific view about the
government. Ron is ironic because he hates the government, yet works for the government.
Quotes such as this one from Episode 4 are things he says directly to the camera during
interviews. They are sidebars through which the writers develop his character.

Within the same episode (Season 3, Episode 12), we see two perspectives (Rons and Leslies)
about Rons upcoming birthday. Their dialogue and dispositions are typical of their characters
Ron hates celebrations and Leslie loves them. Nonetheless, getting this insiders view about the
situation from both ends is a clever and creative way of portraying third-person omniscience in
film. It enhances the narrative in a purposeful way.

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