In the history of mockumentary cinema, films like This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest’s works like Waiting For Guffman and even The Blair Witch Project certainly stand as the most popular, famous or infamous examples of fictitious documentaries to date. Not nearly as well known, though absolutely deserving a wider swath of notoriety, is a made-for-TV movie co-created and masterminded by none other than Peter Jackson, the genius behind bringing the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the big screen. This little-known film is called Forgotten Silver and it is well worth any search to find it.
When it originally premiered on New Zealand television, the seamless creation of the history of a previously unknown film pioneer caused quite a stir. It’s easy to see how so many viewers were deceived. The melding of the real with the made-up (aligning the story with actual historical events and figures, much in the same general manner as was done in Forrest Gump but to a more realistic extent) in Forgotten Silver gives the lie credibility. Even more striking than that is the amazing job that was done to make the “old” footage look authentic. By mimicking the goofs of the earliest years of cinema (poor framing, poor focus, etc.) and marrying that with a not yet seen level of purposefully damaging and aging the look of the film itself, the result is nearly impossible to tell apart from the actual old footage spliced into Forgotten Silver's mix.
Pushing the technical aspects of the film aside, Forgotten Silver truly succeeds for the integral reason any film does: the storytelling is exceptional. Jackson and co-director/writer Costa Botes expertly reveal the story of fictitious filmmaker Colin McKenzie in a manner that is at times laugh-out-loud funny, at times tragically touching and always utterly fascinating. There is a breathtaking sense of discovery throughout the entire film that can be credited to fabulous filmic storytelling. From the unfolding of Jackson’s initial narration as he tells of finding McKenzie’s stored film reels to the trek through the dense forests of New Zealand to discover the lost sets of McKenzie’s epic “Salome,” each twist in the story is exciting. Even the close-ups and pull-backs on still photos are ingeniously executed to show just the right information at the right moment for maximum impact.