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A semidocumentary is a form of book, film, or television program presenting a fictional story that incorporates many factual details or actual events, or which is presented in a manner similar to a documentary. Stylistically, it has certain similarities to Italian Neorealism, such as the use of location shooting and employing non-actors in secondary roles. However, the viewer is not intended to mistake a semidocumentary for a real documentary; the fictional elements are too prominent.
One of the first films of this kind was The House on 92nd Street (1945): Time used the term "semidocumentary" to describe this film in 1952. The producer of the film had previously worked on newsreels which inspired the film-making style.
In the late 1940s, semidocumentary films were often associated with film noir thrillers, sharing a commitment to on-location shooting, gritty realism, and understated performances. Several of Richard Fleischer's films had semidocumentary qualities, as did the productions of Louis de Rochemont.
In the 1960s and 1970s the semidocumentary style faded. The standard documentary had blurred the difference between itself and fiction so much that there was viewer confusion regarding what they were seeing.
Some examples of movies that have elements of semidocumentary in their style:
- 13 Rue Madeleine (1946)
- Armored Car Robbery (1950)
- T-Men (1947)
- Boomerang (1947)
- Bodyguard (1948)
- Brute Force (1947)
- Call Northside 777 (1948)
- Canon City (1948)
- He Walked by Night (1948)
- Dragnet (1951)
- Highway 301 (1950)
- The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
- The House on 92nd Street (1945)
- The Killers (1946)
- Kiss of Death (1947)
- Let Me Die a Woman (1978)
- Mystery Street (1950)
- The Naked City (1948)
- Night Flight from Moscow (1973)
- On Dangerous Ground (1952)
- Panic in the Streets (1950)
- The Racket (1951)
- Side Street (1950)
- The Street with No Name (1948)
- The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)
- Walk East on Beacon (1952)
- Romanski, Philippe; Sy-Wonyu, Aïssatou (2002). Trompe (-)l'oeil: Imitation & Falsification. Publications de l'Université de Rouen. 324. University of Le Havre Press. p. 343. ISBN 2877753344.