Country of origin
Year of production
Costa Botes and Peter Jackson
New Zealand
1995 (aired October 29)
50 min
A mock-documentary which heralds the discovery of a long-lost New Zealand world pioneer in film-making (Colin McKenzie). This uses a sophisticated blend of expositional, interactive and observational modes to present a biography of McKenzie's life (through interviews with local celebrities, McKenzie's 'widow', and film experts - including Leonard Maltin). This is intercut with footage of an expedition by Botes and Jackson as they travel into the depths of the New Zealand bush to re-discover the site of McKenzie's greatest silent epic, Salome.

Forgotten Silver and its audience

Forgotten Silver was a famous (or infamous, depending on your interpretation) mock-documentary hoax which screened on primetime New Zealand television. It was the text which first sparked our interest in mock-documentary - the Screen and Media Studies Department at the University of Waikato, where we both worked at the time, received a number of excited calls asking if the programme was real, and requesting more information on the discovery of 'Colin McKenzie'.

The day after the programme aired, the directors Peter Jackson and Costa Botes were required to go on national television to explain themselves (just as Orson Welles was forced to apologise to his American audience after an all-too-convincing performance in the 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds - a dramatic production constructured as a breaking news bulletin).

The documents included below are intended to provide something of an introduction to the controversy which this mock-documentary created within New Zealand by its initial broadcast. These materials should be of interest to the casual fan, but also to media studies students looking to explore the varieties of ways in which audiences interpret mock-documentary.

  • 'Heavenly Features' - an article which appeared in the New Zealand Listener immediately before the broadcast. The editor of the weekly magazine was aware of the hoax, and played along in order not to undermine its impact.
  • A number of New Zealand newspaper reports in the days following the initial television broadcast.
  • 'Gone, not forgotten' - a follow-up article in the Listener, detailing the controversy and the responses from Jackson and Botes.
  • The detailed reactions of regional newspaper columnists

The following are extracts from a number of letters published by New Zealand newspapers and magazines. They suggest some of the complexity of audience interpretations of the programme (and by extension of the mock-documentary form in general).

  • A few excited responses from believers in the discovery of a New Zealand genius
  • Some of the positive responses from those who appreciated the craft and underlying agenda of this mock-documentary
  • Many of the negative responses to the programme, from viewers who criticised especially the role of the (former) public service television broadcaster and use of public funds in Silver's production
  • A 'dialogue' between Costa Botes and the critics of Forgotten Silver

Newly discovered New Zealand filmmaker, the legendary 'Colin McKenzie'. McKenzie, claimed Forgotten Silver, deserved a place in the pantheon of early cinema pioneers.

Directors Peter Jackson and Costa Botes, 'privileged to view a new page in film history'.

McKenzie on the set of his lost biblical epic Salome, a masterpiece filmed in secret in the New Zealand bush.