IN REAL LIFE, the latest work by the young and prolific Claire Kurylowski, examines the great lengths girls go to in order to defend themselves from harassment and sexual violence. The Berlin and London based artist created the short film for Dazed Digital’s Visionaries series after watching the viral YouTube video How to Break Out of Zip Ties.

The YouTube tutorial has received a little over 3.4 million hits, which so accurately represents the culture we live in, placing the responsibility on young women to prevent harmful situations from coming their way, and, as Kurylowski told Dazed Digital, “the video reinstated the binary idea of women being accountable for their ‘expected victimhood’ and inversely the lack of accountability/deterrent strategies existing in the same forms and scope, if at all, for anti-abuse and anti-sexual harassment.”


This calls to mind the recent trending Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, following the horrific UCSB shooting last month. The hashtag became an instantly mobilized movement, garnering millions of tweets (though not all supportive or positive) from women around the globe sharing their own experiences with sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and other misogynistic acts. The hashtag was a response to the unnecessary and insensitive claims that “not all men” act in such a sexist or violent manner. The tweets were a clear rebuttal-- while it is obvious that not all men behave in such a way, all women have experienced misogyny.

IN REAL LIFE stars up-and-coming wunderkind Arvida Bystrom, a young artist whose own work delves into a like-minded discussion of gender, sexism, and sexuality. With her gorgeous shot for shot cinematography, Kurylowski follows Bystrom as she explores a comprehensive understanding of her own agency, self-preservation, and sexuality. The film opens with a light-hearted scene of the pink-haired artist watching a rope bondage tutorial, carefully tying the baby pink rope on over her clothes. The following scene reveals Bystrom walking outside in the dark, and the shaken camera handling instills a sense of paranoia within the viewer that feels all too familiar—without a doubt, we’ve all experienced the crippling anxiety of walking alone at night, keys in fist. We see Bystrom again in her apartment, watching the YouTube video with focus and fascination and buying her own zip ties to practice escape. With concerned intent, she and her friend watch the tutorial yet again and muse that if someone were seriously considering abduction, they would probably use something sturdier.

The film is not only incredibly well shot, but also culturally significant and topically important. With an audience as large as Dazed’s, featuring such a widely understood but incredibly controversial discourse is both brazen and praiseworthy on Kurylowski’s part (and Dazed’s). It is about time we begin bringing these things to light. Following the #YesAllWomen movement and the release of IN REAL LIFE, we can only hope that this is the beginning of something much larger. All it takes is young artists like Kurylowski and Bystrom, boldly sharing their own experiences.

Dazed Digital asked Kurylowski whether or not she thinks filmmakers have an obligation to deal with these issues considering their given platforms, and she responded eloquently, musing, “I think the best thing you can be is respectful and honest in your work… We should not be disillusioned that a film is activism – it isn’t in itself – but perhaps the discussions it opens might influence or encourage some further actions, and having visibility of these topics in mainstream media is important. Whether they’re broaching social topics or not, I’d just like to see more women telling their stories because it doesn’t happen often enough!”

I couldn’t agree more.


All images courtesy of Claire Kurylowski for Dazed Digital.

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