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The Real Real

Documentary Then and Now


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? 

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