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Truth

The Little Blue Horses

Rochelle and her mother lived in a large town that was on its way to becoming a small city. On her way to school, Rochelle often stopped to watch the crews of construction workers erect a new house in the hole where, only a few days before, one of her neighbors’ houses had loomed in sour glory, a car parked on its front lawn, silk flowers sprouting along its foundation like hair plugs. 

<i>Honeyland</i>. Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska. Apolo Media/Trice Films, 2019. 85 minutes.

The Real Real

Are there still documentaries? A glance at this year’s Oscar nominees, a thriving festival circuit, and my own Netflix history makes the answer plain. And yet the question persists. It squats at the end of long days spent consuming “real” images and “true” stories, navigating the apps and feeds animated by user content, the video-driven news homepages, the platforms that upload hundreds of vlogs and tutorials each minute. It confronts those who spend the same long days being captured, consensually and otherwise, by the cameras surrounding us, embedded in the screens we use to watch other people eat, unbox, talk into their bathroom mirrors, and react to other people in other videos. A world in which reality is screened by definition would seem to pose a threat to a genre rooted in its claim on real life. What now distinguishes documentary from the air we breathe? 

Tragedy and the Whole Truth

There were six of them, the best and bravest of the hero’s companions. Turning back from his post in the bows, Odysseus was in time to see them lifted, struggling, into the air, to hear their screams, the desperate repetition of his own name. The survivors could only look on helplessly, while Scylla “at the mouth of her cave devoured them, still screaming, still stretching out their hands to me in the frightful struggle.” And Odysseus adds that it was the most dreadful and lamentable sight he ever saw in all his “explorings of the passes of the sea.” We can believe it; Homer’s brief description (the too poetical simile is a later interpolation) convinces us.