Truth and Fiction: Notes on (Exceptional) Faith in Art

Truth and Fiction: Notes on (Exceptional) Faith in Art

by Milcho Manchevski

Dead Letter Office (for BABEL Working Group).

Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2012. 40 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0615647104. OPEN-ACCESS e-book + $9.00 [€7.00] in print: paperbound/5 X 8 in.

Published: 2012-05-25

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Reflecting upon his experience making his 2010 feature film Mothers, a cinematic triptych interweaving three narratives that are each, in their own way, about the often tenuous lines between truth and fiction, and one of which actually morphs into a documentary about the aftermath in a small Macedonian town where three retired cleaning women were found raped and killed in 2008 and the murderer turned out to be the journalist covering the story for a major Macedonian newspaper, the Oscar-nominated Macedonian-born and New York-based writer-director Milcho Manchevski writes that,

“Most of us look at films differently or accept stories in a different way if we believe that they are true. We watch a documentary film in a different way from the way we watch a drama.  We read a magazine article in a different way from the way in which we read a short story.  Sometimes, we even treat a film that employs actors differently than a regular drama because we were told that it is based on something that really happened. We treat these works based on truth or reporting on the truth in different ways.


“What is it in our relation to reality or in our relation to what we perceive to be reality that makes us value a work of artifice (an art piece) differently depending on our knowledge or conviction of whether that work of artifice is based on events that really took place?”

Further, Manchevski writes,

“Every piece of art has to contain the truth. But, not the truth of what happened.  It needs to contain the truth of how things are — and the difference between what happened and how things are is in what is important. Is it the events (and by extension the facts) of what happened, or is it the emotional and conceptual underpinning and thus understanding of how things are?”

In this extended essay, or letter, Manchevski ruminates the different ways in which both filmmakers and audiences create, experience, and absorb the cinematic narrative with a certain trust and faith in the artwork to render, not the factual truth, per se, but the importantly shared experience of trusting “the plane of reality created by the work itself,” such that “we trust its inner logic and integrity, we have faith in what happens while we give ourselves to this work of art.” Truth becomes a question of what artist and audience can see and feel together: what feels real becomes the world we inhabit.

AFTERWORD by Adrian Martin: “Truth Approaches, Reality Affects”

Milcho Manchevski has written and directed the feature films Before the Rain (nominated for an Academy Award and winner of over 30 film awards, including the Golden Lion for Best Film), Dust, Shadows and Mothers, and over 50 short forms, including Tennessee for Arrested Development. He has also been a director on HBO’s The Wire. His fiction, essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in New American Writing, La Repubblica, Corriere Della Sera, Sineast, The Guardian, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and Pravda, among other publications. He has authored a (very small) book of fiction, The Ghost of My Mother, and two books of photographs, Street  and Five Drops of Dream, which accompanied two photo exhibitions. Manchevski has lectured at a number of universities, cinematheques, art museums and art institutes, most notably as a Head of Directing Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Graduate Film program.

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  1. Dr. Donald R. Marshall, author and former university professor of humanities, 3 years ago Reply

    Milcho, my dear fellow—always nice to see your films AND to read your thoughts about whatever interests and concerns you.
    Our afternoon in Skopje about 10 years ago remains one of the highlights of this book of interviews with the world’s most talented and fascinating film directors that I’ve just recently completed. All the best to you, my brother. Don

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