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5 Controversial Documentaries That Blurred the Line Between Fact and Fiction

Nanook of the North

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When we sit down to watch a documentary film, we enter into a social contract with the moviemakers: what they’re about to show us is true, to the best of their abilities. But movies and the truth have a very wobbly relationship, and when it comes to a good story things are likely to get embellished.

While some documentarians are strict with their commitment to truth, others cut corners to produce the tale they want to tell. Before you watch Thursday’s all-new Documentary Now!, check out five documentaries that played fast and loose with the facts and got busted doing it.

5. Winged Migration

This gorgeous nature documentary, directed by Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats and Jacques Perrin, purported to show the incredible feats performed by birds as they navigated the globe. Filmed on seven continents over four years with airborne cameras, it’s an incredible technical feat. Unfortunately, the narrative the French filmmakers weave with their footage is a bit misleading.

You see, you’re not actually watching wild birds migrate when you watch Winged Migration. A solid chunk of that aerial footage is of tame birds raised from birth by the directors around cameras and other film equipment so they would act “naturally” around it.


4. Roger & Me

Michael Moore is a polarizing figure in the world of documentaries, bringing his personal politics into everything he shoots. But his first feature, 1989’s Roger & Me, was his most personal. Examining the effects of General Motors abandoning the manufacturing town of Flint, Michigan, it painted a dismal picture of big business acting at the expense of the people it employs.

Still, critics quibbled with the way Moore depicted GM’s actions in Flint. News reports were edited to imply that GM had abandoned the town, but they continued producing cars and parts there decades after Roger & Me was filmed. One of the interviewees, attorney Larry Stecco, even successfully sued Moore and Warner Brothers for depicting him in a false light as a moneyed snob when he was actually a tireless advocate for Flint’s underclass.


3. Searching For Sugar Man

The story in Mark Bendjelloul’s 2012 documentary is such a good one — a little-known Detroit singer-songwriter is rediscovered after half a century and finds out that he was a pop culture icon in South Africa — that it’s almost a shame to debunk it here. In the flick, Sixto Rodriguez is portrayed as having disappeared after the release of his second album in 1971 and eventually found living in obscurity in Detroit.

That’s not actually what happened, though. Rodriguez went on to tour internationally in the late 1970s and 1980s, most notably very well-received gigs in Australia. The film spends lots of time wondering if he died and recounting urban legends about his demise, but it’s plainly obvious that he was still around, with well-publicized gigs in Australia in 2007 and 2010. (He even had a song in the 2006 Heath Ledger film Candy.) But the film’s look at Sixto’s popularity in Africa and his sudden career resurgence is fascinating.


2. White Wilderness

One of the most notorious nature documentaries of all time, Disney’s 1958 White Wilderness purported to be a first-of-its-kind look at the animal life of Canada’s rugged north country. The movie was a huge hit and even took home an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Unfortunately, one of the movie’s most notorious scene was revealed to be completely fabricated.

In the film, we see a huge group of lemmings, cute brown rodent-like animals, supposedly attempting to migrate by jumping off of a cliff into the Arctic Ocean to their watery deaths. Only one problem: the critters are plunging into the Bow River near Calgary, and they’re not jumping — they’re being pushed by a rotating platform created by the film crew. A 1982 CBS News investigation uncovered the truth, and revealed that several other scenes in the movie were filmed in a studio.


1. Nanook Of The North

One of the most well-known documentaries of all time, Robert Flaherty’s 1922 ethnography took viewers up to northern Quebec to experience the life of a fur trader named Nanook and his family in the inhospitable frozen wastes. The film was a tremendous success and it inspired a wave of imitators.

Only one problem: Flaherty staged a whole bunch of it. Nanook wasn’t named Nanook but actually Allakariallak, the woman claimed to be his wife wasn’t, and by the time it was filmed the Inuit had moved past spear hunting and began using guns. Several scenes, including one where Nanook is perplexed by a phonograph record and bites it, were completely scripted.

Check out a clip from Documentary Now!‘s take on Nanook of the North below

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Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…

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IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.

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Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:


Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.

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Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.

Healthcare

From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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