When fake stories become believable
For the Herald
The mockumentary First on the Moon by Fedorchenko is shown at Proa
While the ability to come up with an original story or script is in itself admirable, and while filmmaking is anything but a simple task, there is much to be said about mockumentaries. This genre, which truly came to life in the late sixties but which took note of earlier works such as Luis Buñuel’s Land Without Bread and Orson Welles’s War Of The Worlds radio experiment, has spurred less films than one could expect. Some directors have nonetheless excelled in the making of mockumentaries, and filmmakers like Cristopher Guest and Woody Allen have left their signature on the genre with movies like Spinal Tap and Zelig.Over the last decade or so, we’ve become accustomed to seeing mockumentaries on our TV screens, with single-camera sitcoms that make use of this method in order to convey realism and step away from laugh tracks and live audiences. When it comes to film, however, the industry seems to be less fruitful, and movies like First on the Moon, by Russian auteur Aleksey Fedorchenko, raise the question of why there are such few contributions to the genre.
One of the answers might be that feature-length mockumentaries require a great deal of work, and at the same time they face a very high risk when it comes to the press and the critics. A mockumentary is by definition a fake documentary, and as such, it has to convey the feeling that what we are seeing is actual fact, even if we know it’s not. Creating a mockumentary requires extensive investigation of the universe that will be needed to support the statements of the film — a task that in many cases is just as thorough as the one that goes into making a real documentary and which usually requires dabbling in true historic events and contexts.
In order to successfully shoot a fake documentary, a director needs to have extensive knowledge of what makes for a good true one. A strong journalism tone is essential, and proof of research and investigation needs to be exhibited by means of different filming techniques, interviews, and archive footage.
Aleksey Fedorchenko took three years and employed over a thousand people in the making of the 2005 multiple award winning film First on the Moon, which tells the story of a late 1930s’ top-secret Russian operation that recruited four people and trained them for a space expedition to the moon, thirty years before the Apollo 11 mission. Eventually, one of the four cosmonauts, Captain Ivan Sergeyevich Kharlamov, gets selected for the task and is sent to the moon on a rocket, of which all contact is lost soon after the launching.
The “documentary” follows the reconstruction of the events that took place after the supposedly failed mission and investigates the findings of remains and debris from the rocket in Chile, which prove that Kharlamov not only succeeded in getting to the moon, but also managed to return safely back to Earth and escape from Russian authorities. A series of interviews with people related to the mission and archive footage from spy cameras, along with some guesswork, make up for a very plausible amount of data and a carefully constructed fake investigation that soon manages to make the audience forget that what they’re seeing is not real.
First on the Moon is a fascinating example of why mockumentaries are so attractive. We are usually interested in history, but we are even more fascinated by the untold aspects of it, the “hidden versions” of so-called-fact. Russia is an especially good subject for a film of this kind, since a great deal of its history is shrouded in mistery, misinformation and secret government operations. Most of what makes First on the Moon such a believable mockumentary is due to the fact that communist idealism at the time of the events and the Russian dreams of progress and conquest of the period served as a very strong basis to the theory that such a grand endeavour could be shamefully shelved away, hidden from the public’s knowledge. By taking advantage of this, Fedorchenko leaves its spectators with the feeling that while what they’ve seen may not be true, it certainly could have been.
First on the Moon (original title: Pervye Na Lune), Russia, 2005. Running time: 75 minutes. Director: Aleksey Fedorchenko.
Where & When
Today, 6 pm, at Fundación Proa (Av. Pedro de Mendoza 1929).