Are movies like mirrors, showing us things about ourselves? Or are movies like rollercoasters, giving us thrills and tricks? This debate, as old as film itself, has only been heightened in our modern media landscape, defined by YouTube at one extreme and video games at the other. This seminar examines film history as a struggle among conflicting visions of realism. We will interrogate realism in both theory and practice, through a wide range of films and texts that have tried to define what it means for a fiction film to be “real.” Screenings will span film history, from the earliest cinema of the 1890s through contemporary Dogme 95 and “mumblecore” movements, including Italian Neorealism, French Poetic Realism, German Expressionism, and the American Direct Cinema innovations of the 1960s and 1970s, especially the work of John Cassavetes. Writers include Rudolf Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, André Bazin, David Bordwell, Michel de Certeau, Pauline Kael, Siegfried Kracauer, Christian Metz, and Kristin Thompson.