Tag Archives: mockumentary

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 November 2014

Distributor: Metrodome

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Writers: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer

New Zealand 2014

85 mins

New Zealand directors and comedians Jemaine Clement (best known for Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi’s vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows has wowed festivals and midnight screenings around the world since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year – and rightly so. Among the tide of low-fi productions based around an amusing (or scary) concept and a couple of improvising actors, this smart, canny and often hilarious comedy truly stands out. Expanding on Clement and Waititi’s 2005 short film, their debut feature observes the lives of a bunch of bloodsucking flatmates who are trying to connect and keep up with the modern world with joyful lunacy and great sympathy for both the living and the undead.

Aged between 183 and 8,000 years, über-dapper Viago (Waititi), medieval ladykiller Vladislav (Clement) and Deacon (Jonny Brugh), a rogue rebel and big fan of the Nazis, are forced to face the fact that, despite continuing worries about sunlight, crucifixes and garlic, the actual crux of the vampire matter nowadays lies primarily with the mundane. As they try to deal with paying the rent, going out clubbing and annoying arguments about the bloody dishes or cleaning the carpet after a messy dinner, things become increasingly complicated. For one, recently turned bloodsucker Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) hasn’t got anything better to do than spreading the news about his transformation around downtown Wellington, which draws unnecessary attention to the residence. And then there’s Petyr (Ben Fransham), the eldest of the biting brood and everybody’s darling, who occupies a coffin in the basement and seems to be entirely free from following the rules and rotas of the (relatively) organised household.

Beneath its insanity and immortal issues, the film has an unashamedly soft core that largely revolves around Viago, who is also the narrator of the story. Bravely dedicated to defusing the tensions in the house, he is not only the good soul of the film, but deeply haunted by a love from the past that once brought him from Europe to New Zealand. And Waititi captures his character brilliantly, walking the fine line between human and brutish consciousness and pitching his admission at just the right level to inspire both empathy and horror.

Boasting believable performances throughout, which ensure that no one is cast as either purely evil or innocent, What We Do in the Shadows manages to make the oldest genre clichés and stalest jokes funny again. At the same time, it is original and inventive enough to generate an irresistibly entertaining vampire romp of sorts, even if things get occasionally monotonous in the mid-section. Nonetheless, poignant comic timing, themes of skewed tolerance and commitment, and the smart blend of farce and sympathy lift this alleged doc-comedy way above the mockumentary pack.

Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:


AFR poster

Format: DVD

Distributor: Sandrew Metronome

Director: Morten Hartz Kaplers

Writers: Morten Hartz Kaplers, Allan Milter Jakobsen

Cast: Kofi Annan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Reimer Bo Christensen, Morten Hartz Kaplers

Denmark 2007

83 mins

Politics has, surprisingly, not been a target for the mockumentary as often as one might imagine, with the TV mini-series Tanner ’88, detailing the run for president by a fictitious candidate, and the made-for-TV movie The Death of a President, imagining the assassination of George W. Bush, the most easily recalled. The opportunities afforded for satire, scandal-mongering and provocation would appear to be a goldmine for filmmakers and television directors but it remains a largely untapped source of inspiration. One intriguing big screen take on the political mockumentary came out of Denmark in 2007: Morton Hartz Kaplers’s AFR - the initials of the then Danish PM and now Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen - was another what-if assassination scenario. Perhaps best suited to television, with nothing particularly ‘cinematic’ to warrant seeing it on the silver screen, AFR is as a whole somewhat underwhelming: its depiction of Rasmussen’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer, thought to be his secret gay lover Emil, played by Hartz Kaplers himself, runs out of steam after a promising set-up. And yet in its deft interweaving of factual footage and staged scenes to comment on the Machiavellian world of politics, media intrusion, the age of celebrity, voyeurism and the nature of documentaries themselves, it feels like the natural successor, in terms of construction at least, to the work of Peter Watkins.

AFR is conventional in structure, pretending to be an after-the-event investigative exposé of the incidents leading up to Rasmussen’s murder and the potential identity of the culprit. It uses staged talking head interviews with fake politicians, friends and family members of both Rasmussen and Emil, footage from interviews with actual politicians (taken out of context to suit Hartz Kaplers’s narrative), images from the N&#248rrebro squat riots of the 90s and a damaging scandal involving Rasmussen early in his political career to paint a fictionalised portrait of the two ‘lead characters’ and Danish society as a whole. Alternative lifestyles, conspiracy theories, the war on terror, the anti-globalisation movement and political cover-ups all play a part in AFR‘s narrative, and figures such as Kofi Annan and George W. Bush crop up alongside the extensive footage of Rasmussen, in office and being grilled by the media, which has been corralled into this, for Danes at least, controversy-baiting alternative universe. An added murder-mystery element is introduced into proceedings as Emil, a troubled, volatile and independent thinker, is first fingered as the assassin before appearing to be the fall guy in an unresolved conspiracy reaching right into the heart of the Danish political elite.

Although AFR was branded as exploitative and in bad taste prior to its release, in much the same way as The Death of a President was, Hartz Kaplers’s mock-doc won the Tiger Award at the 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival. Rather than being an attack on its titular subject, it makes political hypocrisy, media manipulation and social divides its real targets. It may be a minor piece but it’s an intriguing exercise in sound, image and history manipulation that, along with crime series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and the hard-hitting Afghanistan war documentary Armadillo, which in their own ways both investigate and comment upon Danish politics, forms part of a provocative trilogy exploring the country’s recent past.

Neil Mitchell