Most people consider documentaries a source of information and a way to learn more, yet just as is the case when reading an article, you have to wonder about the sources. If you see certain individuals interviewed you will probably hear their opinion on facts despite not being an expert in the appropriate field.
Another source of falsification is the director of the documentary himself who usually has a fixed opinion about the subject and will seek out ways to prove that idea instead of trying to be as objective as possible.
When reading an article, the only thing that might sway you to agree with the writer is the rhetoric used, There are many ways of manipulating the audience, including but not limited to impactful imagery and music to change the emotional state into one of terror, mercy, awe or whatever else you seek.
So the result you finally get is many times closer to fiction than to reality and this explains why a film like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was awarded the Palme d’Or and the People’s Choice Award for favorite motion picture.
Animal Planet was also accused of showing “fake documentaries” where the “scientists” were actors, a fact divugled during the end credits. They even made sequels! Here are 10 Successful Documentaries That Misrepresent Reality.
10 Frozen Planet
David Attenborough became a legend in the UK for his narration of documentaries like Planet Earth, and Frozen Planet continued the exploration of the animal kingdom with the coldest places on the globe. The problem with this documentary came several years after it came out, when a newspaper investigated some of the footage and found out a scene depicting the birth of a pair of polar bear cubs was actually filmed at a zoo in Germany. The BBC made a statement afterwards saying that this was the standard practice in the industry. It cast a bad light on the entire wildlife documentary business.
9 The Great Global Warming Swindle
This controversial documentary wanted to show that global warming is supported by a lack of evidence; a creation of political and lobbyist parties. The original documentary was seen by 2.5 million people and Channel 4 said only one in six callers had complaints about it, yet the experts had a bit more worries.
The film claimed volcanoes produced more CO2 than humans which was proven to be false. This claim was eventually cut from the international version of the film. The scientists appearing were quote-mined and some of them threatened legal action because they were “totally misled” and the film grossly distorted their claims.
8 An Inconvenient Truth
Another work of David Guggenheim, this one stars Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, in a presentation about the threats of global warming and what it means for humankind. It was widely appreciated at first for its educative purposes, but when the scientific community got to see it, many errors were brought to light. The overall message was true, but the skewed figures and extreme claims such as “sea levels rising six meters a year” or “Hurricane Katrina was man-made” transformed it into an alarmist flick. A court case led to the High Court of London finding nine fundamental errors in the movie’s claims and, even if it wasn’t finally banned in schools, it placed the credibility of Al Gore and Guggenheim into question.
7 Bowling for Columbine
This film received almost 30 awards and brought Michael Moore into the spotlight. But the way in which he examined the gun culture in the U.S. was highly flawed. He manipulated interviews and speeches to alter the meaning toward what he wanted and the part with the President of the National Rifle Association is just staggering. One of the most blatant manipulations was when Moore says you can simply open an account in one of America’s banks and get a free gun. In reality you have to undergo a background check before you can buy a gun. And though he was exaggerating, you can't pick up a gun at a bank.
6 The Principle
This documentary is manipulative from the premise to the end. It wants to justify a geocentric solar system - an antiquated idea that the Sun and other planets revolve around the Earth. There are several prominent physicists making an appearance in the film to back up the claims. These prominent physicists later debunked the entire documentary since the creators misused some of their quotes to support their theory. Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway in Star Trek Voyager, was the narrator but she said she wouldn’t have participated in the project had she known the aim of the documentary in the first place.
5 The Greater Good
There was a lot of talk about the benefits and risks of vaccines and this documentary from 2011 uses this hype to its advantage to try and establish a link between vaccines and autism. There are several experts on the subject that were interviewed and the film was endorsed by the National Vaccine Information Center. The criticism came from the partial attitude of the directors and the way in which they manipulate the audience. Surgical oncologist David Gorski created a blog in which he systematically showed each inaccuracy of the film. One of the key research papers, written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, on which the film is based was also discredited and retracted from the medical journal it was published in.
4 Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
This 2008 documentary, starring Ben Stein, wants to show how the mainstream scientific community tries to suppress the evidence of intelligent design in order to support Darwinian evolution. The film became one of the highest grossing documentaries in the U.S. and it stirred a lot of controversy with the claim that believing in evolution leads to fascism, eugenics and communism. The scientists appearing in the film said the interviews were conducted under false pretenses. The filmmakers misrepresented the facts by "quote-mining."
3 Loose Change
This series of documentaries were released between 2005 and 2009. Loose Change argues that the September 11, 2001 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government. Each new release pressed the previous claims even further and introduced new claims new ones since most of the original claims had to be cut due to libel suits.
The documentary still has a cult following, but all of the arguments were thoroughly deconstructed by experts like engineers, scientists, researchers or journalists. It still remains one of the most blatantly fact-altering documentary you could find and there are articles, films and blog posts dedicated to proving the film wrong for its unreliable data, claims and quote mining.
2 Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock filmed himself for 30 days in which he only ate McDonald’s food in an attempt to criticize the lifestyle and obesity problems of the U.S. The body of the protagonist went through drastic changes. He allegedly suffered from extremely high cholesterol and severe liver damage. The 5,000 calories a day food intake also gave him mood swings and depression.
The film had an important impact on the fast food industry, but when other researchers tried to replicate the study they got very different results. Even the idea that his diet consisted of 5,000 calories a day was false. But when the University of Linkoping tried to have a group of students eat 6,000 calories a day, just to be sure, they didn’t have any of the cholesterol or liver problems Spurlock claimed to be experiencing.
1 Waiting for “Superman”
The 2010 documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, won the best documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. The main subject of the film is to criticize the education system by following a few students that try to be accepted into a charter school. It claims that only 20 to 35 per cent of the eight graders in the U.S. charter system read at their grade level - but the real statistic suggests it is closer to 75 per cent. Charter schools in general seem to do worse than public schools if you look at the stats and the documentary makes the audience think that entering into such a school is a life changing matter; so instead of actually improving education, this documentary just makes it worse.