Docufiction: Where Art and Life Merge and Diverge

I’ve always been intrigued by hybrids: Makers who mash different media, meld fantasy with fact to tell stories, or present familiar, yet altered, images that make us think differently about reality as know it, or history as we’ve experienced it.

There are some contemporary/emerging visual artists who are getting attention for this kind of work. Two examples that I’ve recently discovered include Alexa Meade, a young painter I read about in the Washington Post, who creates living portraits using the human body (including her own, pictured below) as canvas; and Ben Heine, a Belgian artist and journalist (covered by the Peta Pixel blog) whose series called “Pencil vs. Camera” blends photography and sketches to super-impose new realities.









Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was the original docufiction, a fake breaking news report on a Martian invasion of the U.S. Some considered it a dangerous prank on a fearful and highly gullible public.

Faux Pas

I ventured into this genre myself nearly 20 years ago when I produced a docufiction called AfterRoe, which envisioned life in the U.S. if abortion once again became illegal. It was the early 1990’s and the pro-life/anti-choice movement appeared to be flourishing, gaining ground in the states, where civil disobedience was being used to blockade women’s clinics. AfterRoe aired on an audio art program called New American Radio, which has since “gone archival.”

With AfterRoe, I excerpted interviews with real people who remembered the days of illegal and back-alley abortions, and mixed them with imaginary (and admittedly amateurish) scenes of a post-Roe America. I learned that it’s easier (for me) to tell true stories than to invent believable ones. It was my first and last attempt at radio drama. Yet I still delight in the rare case of docufiction.

A new public radio creation called The Truth aims to revive the seemingly lost art of fiction on public radio. Jonathan Mitchell, Hillary Frank and Peter Clowney/American Public Media have teamed up to craft a new series that answers the question “What if?”

The first installment called Moon Graffiti (available on PRX) imagines what if Apollo 11 crashed? What if Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin never came back to earth? The piece is based on a real speech written by William Safire for Richard Nixon in the event of a disaster. I have to say, the story sounds achingly real – like a flashback using archival sound/historical coverage of an event that really did take place – except it isn’t, and it didn’t.

It will be interesting to see what kind of response The Truth gets in the public radio system which seems to be actively cultivating its commitment to serious journalism while at the same time flirting with more experimental content.

Unreality Radio


Boldly named, The Truth has launched a Facebook presence and is asking fans to contact their local public radio stations to encourage carriage. July 20th was the anniversary of the moon landing.

I wish these AIR members the best of luck and I look forward to hearing more, more, more.