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Forum of the Real: Documenting the Imaginary

by Daniel Ribas / 01 12 2015


In 2014, in the Forum of the Real first edition, we asked a question, which for us had become central to the programming of a documentary festival: where is the real? This question was obviously provocative because as moving images programmers, we knew that the cinema has in itself all the real ambivalences. Or, to be more precise, all conflicting reals of our world. The debate confirmed the spot where we place ourselves, a spot that we know to be too slippery and unstable so that we can affirm the existence of just one real. 

The next step - which we propose this year - is to look at our world realizing how we can understand it through cinema. To the adversity of an unstable real we oppose the necessity of building an imaginary. We all assume identities - national, sexual, social class or the football clubs, among many others - but as Stuart Hall has shown us so well, these identities are just positions in which we, subjects of the world, put ourselves provisionally. Identities are representations of the world that are offered to us and to which we adhere. They are imaginaries. The historian Benedict Anderson - one of the central authorities to a change in the nationalistic view of the world - explained, still in the 80s, what he termed as an imagined community. This concept is structured around a story of the birth of nations, a very curious story because, contrary to what we are led to believe, it is the product of the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century and not a constant and ancestral feeling. For Anderson, the imagined community was born at the confluence of several events, but for which it was central the emergence of mass media, especially and initially, books and press. With these media, the members of a nation “will never know, will never find and will never hear from most of the other members of the same nation, but still in the mind of every one is the image of their communion”. The “press capitalism”, as he called it, has allowed a common and shared representation. Allowed the creation of a national identity. The imaginary is therefore a representation of the world. Cinema, in particular documentary film, necessarily has an important function in constructing imaginaries (and often in manipulating them). The game between the imaginary created by cinema and the hegemony of certain images (the television or film industry) is complex, requiring a constant critical view of the images we see. Documenting the imaginary should therefore be a way to question the representations of the world, proposing points of convergence where the film opens to the ambivalence of the real. In this sense, the power of the imaginary in cinema doesn’t need to be a photographic mirror of objects, but a construction in which the narrative and staging possibilities are as strong as the moments captured in a naive “authenticity”. The documentary film has, in this sense, the ability to invent new worlds, to produce utopias to combat the current state of the world, its crises and its indignities. The cinema is a weapon to construct other possible worlds: to fight and to propose new imaginaries.

Daniel Ribas


Free entry. The Forum of the Real is made in partnership with CITAR (Research Center for Science and Technology of the Arts), School of Arts, Catholic University of Portugal. It is also an event of the “Year of Portuguese Cinema and Audiovisual”, from the Portuguese Cinema and Audiovisual Institute.


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