Much of the critical response to the post-truth condition has been to idealize the real and to call for the defense of reality against the corrosive effects of the unreal. To counter this tendency, Toby Lee offers up two recent nonfiction films that deploy what she calls the “unreality effect” as a vital strategy of political resistance. INAATE/SE/ (2016, Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil) spars with settler colonial history through a contemporary re-imagining of an ancient Ojibway prophecy, while Layer (2015, Ruth Jenrbekova and Maria Vilkovisky) tells a tale of human oviparity as an allegory for transgender life. Looking at how each film not only presents an alternative reality, but actually pushes back on the notion of reality itself, Lee argues that these works demonstrate the radical potential of the unreal—as experiential category, as representational strategy, and as a politics—and the necessity of reclaiming it as a strategy, both historically and today.
The Radical Unreal: Fabulation and Fantasy in Speculative Documentary
Toby Lee is an artist, anthropologist, and Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. She is the author of The Public Life of Cinema: Conflict and Collectivity in Austerity Greece (University of California Press, 2020), and her writing appears in Visual Anthropology Review, Millennium Film Journal, and World Records. Her films have shown at the Locarno Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Camden Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the Moving Image, and the Whitney Biennial.
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Toby Lee; The Radical Unreal: Fabulation and Fantasy in Speculative Documentary. Film Quarterly 1 June 2021; 74 (4): 9–18. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2021.74.4.9
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