The problem inherent in the word mockumentary is that it leads the audience to expect outright mockery of the film’s subject matter. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for whimsy or finding the charm in things that are eccentric. The best films in this loose genre actually defy that expectation, finding a medium ground between seeing the absurd elements of a particular subject and balancing those with a sense of humanity and an appreciation for the color and imagination inherent to all things unusual.
A lesser known example of this gently satiric approach is Six Days In Roswell. It explores the colorful fringe culture that has sprung up around the town of Roswell, New Mexico, one that fixates conspiracy theory that a flying saucer crash-landed near the town and the event was subsequently covered up by the government. The small desert town subsequently became a hub for all manner of oddballs who obsess over UFO’s, aspiring artists looking for material that interests the public and locals looking to make a buck by transforming UFO lore into tourist merchandise.
Six Days In Roswell creates a frame to explore this subculture by introducing Rich Kronfeld, a real-life sci-fi fan and actor who previously appeared in Trekkies, who plays a fictionalized version of himself here. His persona in this film is that of an introverted, eccentric manchild who longs to escape a dead-end life – he’s a factory worker who still lives with his mom – by going to Roswell for a UFO festival and hopefully learning some tips from the locals on how to be captured by aliens.
This approach could become twee or annoying in a way that would derail the film’s balance of fiction and verite but director Timothy Johnson avoids that in a few ways. The first is by getting a subtle, often charming performance from Kronfeld that avoids overt schtick in favor of a more low-key, Method approach. Kronfeld displays the occasional flash of sly wit but most mixes with the real documentary subjects in an earnest way that gives them room to express themselves in an unselfconscious way. As a result, the audience gets a greater feel for who they are. They are often revealed to be people who want to find a venue for their own creativity or simply want to live an unconventional lifestyle.
Even better, Johnson’s direction takes in a panorama of what goes in on Roswell rather than taking easy potshots. Johnson and his crew were quick to recognize that their chosen setting offered plenty of color and entertainment value without the filmmaking trying to force a comedic P.O.V. onto them: for instance, real ads from local Roswell merchants that play up the town’s UFO angle are funnier than any satirical simulation could be. Instead, it utilizes what it finds to hone in on some intriguingly American themes: a tendency to fixate on conspiracy theories, distrust of the government, a habit of exploiting any trend, however odd, to make money and a need for artistic expression that can take many eccentric forms (especially when there’s a trend to be exploited).
It is interesting to note that the film uses its fictional elements to send up the life Rich is escaping from – a funny scene has a couple of local tough guys attempting to bully Rich through a self-defense lesson at his mother’s behest – and depicts Rich responding to the odd nature of Roswell with open-eyed excitement. There’s a surprising sweetness to the film, including a coda that shows Rich finding his six-day tour of UFO-mania to be a life-affirming event. At moments like that, it’s almost like a low-budget weirdo riff on True Stories. If you go for that sort of vision of Americana, you’re likely to enjoy this film’s cavalcade of all-American eccentrics.
Blu-Ray Notes: This appears as a bonus feature on Synapse’s recent blu-ray release of Suckers but is in fact an equal co-feature, taking up half the disc. It boasts a nice, crisp transfer as well as 5.1 stereo track. It also has extras, including a commentary track and a fun featurette produced around the time the film was made. The presence of Suckers and its own set of extras just sweetens the deal.