This past week I had the opportunity to watch the 2006 fake documentary Interkosmos, part of Jim Finn’s “Communist Trilogy”. How could one not be taken with the idea of a GDR-sponsored cosmonaut program that got buried when the spaceships went missing? Even better, the female cosmonaut’s codename was “Seagull,” the same codename of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. Tereshkova made it back to Earth and the USSR in 1963, but Interkosmos and its many allusions to the (lack of a) woman’s space program were uncomfortably close to being accurate. After being hailed by Khrushchev as his daughter and proof that socialism was the only system in which women and men had equality, Tereshkova lived to see the USSR’s women’s space program dismantled and her own role changed to being a spokesperson for the destined role of women as mothers and wives. The U.S. did not even bother competing with the Soviet Union on that space race metric.
Fake documentaries call into question the definition of a documentary, authenticity, fake, mocumentary…. the list grows. In the end, I saw Finn’s work as an extension of the German cabaret tradition, or perhaps the medieval court jester, in which the “fool” makes the rest of us laugh with his silliness. But the entire point of being a court jester is to undertake a balancing act of making the court (or the film audience) realize that the fool has told us an uncomfortable truth, without resulting in the death of the messenger. As we laughed at Finn’s imaginary “Seagull,” we also were lamenting her only possibility of resurrection – as a fictitious character on the Big Screen. Tereshkova, after all, had hoped to go to space once again, even as an elderly woman, but was never a serious candidate for any country’s space program. Therein lies one truth of Interkosmos: Seagull was as much a figure of the public imagination as was a film caricature.