Six Cases of Documentarians Dabbling in Fiction

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 14, 2010

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Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes: Truth is supposedly stranger than fiction, but sometimes those who deal in truth can’t help but be seduced by the prospect of making stuff up for once. Rosetta, The Son, The Child and Lorna’s Silence ooze realism for a reason: Their Belgian brother filmmakers made documentaries for over a decade before hiring professional actors and creating their own stories.

Seth Gordon: For some, documentaries are a mere stepping stone. After his populist doc The King of Kong, the budding filmmaker proceeded directly to the garish Four Christmases . Horrible Bosses , with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, is slated for a July release.

Andrew Jarecki: The co-founder of Moviefone, Jarecki unexpectedly reinvented himself as a documentarian with the maddeningly unresolved Capturing the Friedmans . He reinvented himself again as a fiction filmmaker—or attempted to. The star-studded All Good Things (reviewed online) sat on a shelf for a year and a half. For a reason.

Michael Moore: Between his Roger & Me intro and subsequent descent into pompous ubiquity, Michael Moore tried to transfer his concerns into Strangelovian war comedy Canadian Bacon. But like failed fact-to-fiction filmmakers Errol Morris (The Dark Wind), Joe Berlinger (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) and Barbara Kopple (Havoc), Moore went straight back to what he does best (well, better, anyway).

Penelope Spheeris: Like Michael Apted—who helms dreck like Nell , Enough and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader while managing the long-running Up! doc series—is a director-for-hire who uses her winnings to do real work. Yes, you should admire the director of The Beverly Hillbillies , Black Sheep and Senseless (and, more charitably, Wayne’s World) but only because she’s also the director of the Decline of Western Civilization films, which document music in its glory (punk) and hilarious excess (metal).

Mel Stuart: In 1971, Mel Stuart helmed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Two years later he made Wattstax, an unapologetically political doc on the Stax concert meant to commemorate the 1965 Watts riots. Stuart was like that his whole career: Docs like Four Days in November, about the JFK assassination, then nonsense romps like If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. ■

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