When you think of documentaries, you might think: fully factual with no question about it. When you think of narrative films, you might think: fully fictional with no truthful elements. However, neither of these assumptions is entirely correct. Some documentaries are fully factual, and some narrative films are fully original, but that is not always the case. Documentaries can have fictional elements and narrative films can have factual elements, placing them in the Hybrid category.
Hybrid films tend to be documentaries with fictional elements, but can also be the other way around. Hybrid films don’t really have a right and a wrong way, allowing for filmmakers to have a bit more freedom with the story. Some of your favorite films may be Hybrid stories, and you would never have known had you not looked into them more; some directors are infamously silent as to how much fiction is in a documentary and vice-versa. Learning more about the films you love can teach you a lot about their origins. Considering that people’s behavior is probably changed when they’re on camera, and that there’s always a bit of truth reflected in great fiction, maybe every film is a Hybrid of some sort. Nonetheless, these are some of the best.
fifteen is a dark coming-of-age film centered around the youth gangs in Singapore. While the film is not a true documentary, it is unscripted for the most part. Director Royston Tan does this to make the film as realistic as possible while not putting himself or any of the boys in harm’s way. The choice to have the limited scripting of the film creates a Hybrid style of the film.
The ability for the boys to speak and act how they would in normal situations allows for the story as a whole to flow better and feel as organically realistic as it could be. The film obviously has some fictional elements, but like many Hybrid films, a basic storyling is scripted and the actors (often non-professionals) are given free rein to work loosely within the skeletal plot. fifteen as a whole perfectly exemplifies the Hybrid film model in a way that is artful but utterly authentic.
Empathy may not be the most well-known film on this list, but its Hybrid nature fits perfectly. The film begins as a documentary interviewing therapists and psychologists about their experiences. Empathy then delves into the fictional life of one woman and her personal experience with psychoanalysis. The film eventually moves towards more allegorical and intentionally disarming elements, but throughout all of it, they stick to mixing fact and fiction perfectly. Empathy may be a bit confusing for some viewers, but if you’re willing to experiment, the blend of documentary and narrative story creates a very beautiful film. Empathy is only as interesting and beautiful as it is because of the use of Hybrid storytelling.
Famously made for just $218, tarnation is traditionally described as a documentary, but includes multiple pieces of narrative fiction throughout the film which are integral to its structure. The film is biographical and based on the life of writer, director, and star Jonathan Caouette. Caouette utilizes his past from him, growing up amidst the devastation of substance use and mental health conditions from many traumatic times with his mother from him. The film also includes a glance into Caouette’s future, after he finds out his mother has overdosed, and thus how that may affect the rest of his life.
tarnation blends the elements of fact and fiction to create a smooth, linear story for audiences to live through Caouette’s eyes. The blend of fact and fiction also makes the film the perfect example of an equally split Hybrid film, combining home videos of scripted monologues and fictional scenarios throughout the course of this extremely personal documentary. The blend allows viewers to relate to and understand Caouette in a way that would not be possible without the use of both documentary and narrative elements. Roger Ebert, who was more often than not right, wrote at the time, “I wonder if the movie represents a new kind of documentary that is coming into being.”
two CSA: The Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America has been categorized as a great mockumentary but leans more into the Hybrid arena when examined further. The film is centered around the idea that the South has won the Civil War, and presents what the world looks like in 2004 (when the film was released) as a result. Drawing on historical events and then manipulating them into fiction, CSA creates a Hybrid film which fictionally satirizes actualities, but also documents politics from the 20th century uniquely (finding the capital-T Truth in between the two).
While everything after the Civil War is fiction in some way, pieces of it are factual to what the Confederacy was at its point of conception. The film perfectly melds fact and fiction to give viewers an alternate history of something we could be living and should be grateful that we are not. The blend gives viewers a more accurate depiction and fully immerses them in the story.
As one of the most talked-about films going into this year’s Oscars, flee fits into the Hybrid docufiction category so well that it became the first film to be nominated for Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Documentary Feature, and deserved one of those Oscars. The film follows the true story of a man who fled Afghanistan for Denmark but is told through a pseudonym, making it somewhat fictional. The film is also animated, separating it from most other documentaries, which are almost never animated.
The film follows the man throughout his life and what it meant to him to leave his home in Afghanistan. This is done through flashbacks, which are also abnormal for documentaries, but can be utilized because of the animated medium, which also allows for a more creative and personal visual retelling of the past. The film was released to immense critical acclaim and thus earned three nominations at this year’s Oscars. The film creates a space in which a documentary almost seems more palatable for those who don’t traditionally watch them. Not only is flee one of the best films of this past year, but it also shows us a more modern example of a perfectly melded Hybrid docufiction film.
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