Third (World) Cinema and Film Theory

Third Cinema, as Stephen Crofts points out, is one of the most “elastic” concepts in the cinematic lexicon (Crofts 31). It is distinct from First Cinema, represented primarily by Hollywood, and Second Cinema, embodied by the European art cinema and the cinema of auteurs. Despite the fact that they are to a certain degree similar, Third Cinema is substantially different from the Third World Cinema. Third World Cinema refers to the filmmaking of countries outside the two dominant spheres that appeared after the Second World War (Hayward 389). The notion of the Third World emerged during the early years of the Cold War and was attributed to countries that did not align with either of the two political superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union (397). Their spheres of influence were divided according to the economic status and political affiliation of the member states: the First World, represented by North American states together with Western and North European countries, denoted the technologically advanced ones; the Second World comprised Central and Eastern European states, Soviet Union, and China that constituted the so-called Communist Bloc; the Third World was represented by former ex-colonies, underdeveloped states, and developing countries from all around the globe. Moreover, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its system of political affiliates, media today treats certain regions, for example those of the “Caucasus, central Asia, and the former Yugoslavia” also in Third World terms (Moore 116). However, the Third World mainly refers to the colonized or de-colonized nations of the world, “whose economic and political structures have been shaped and deformed within the colonial process” (Stam and Spence 635).

More than a cinema of geo-political implications, Third Cinema is primarily intended to denote a “riposte” (Hayward 389) to the dominant, Western filmmaking, aimed to “strike back” and provide a “reverse shot” to dominant cinema, that was characterized by colonialist inheritance present in “innumerable ethnographic, linguistic and even topographical blunders” (Stam and Spence 637). Thus, Third Cinema confronts Western political and classical cinematic systems (Hayward 397), which created an unbalanced representation of race, class and gender predominantly in deceitful stereotypical images of non-Western people. Ana M López presents the example of the classical Hollywood cinema which, according to the author, was “never kind to ethnic or minority groups” (195). López stresses the fact that stereotyping in Hollywood was an everyday practice that circulated “easily and repeatedly from film to film” in which “minorities and ethnics were most noticeable” (ibid.) through their absent authentic representations.

Rarely protagonists, ethnics merely provided local color, comic relief, or easily recognizable villains and dramatic foils. When coupled with the pervasiveness of stereotypes, this marginalization or negation completes the usual “pattern” of Hollywood’s ethnic representation and its standard assessment as damaging, insulting, and negative. (ibid.)

One of the aims of the Third Cinema was to rectify these images and to render the issue of audience, too. If feminist cinema reinterpreted the traditional status of the spectator in terms of gender, Third Cinema displaced the privileged, Western position of the viewer and paid special attention to its growing audience. The expanding number of diasporic population (a number of people with the same background who emigrated from their country and live outside their national borders) in the First World, especially in the past two decades and the development of post-colonial, national cinemas in the past fifty years induced an amplified global interest in Third Cinema.

Indirectly Third Cinema might also denote films made in the countries of the Third World (Hayward 389-390) but not all Third World moving pictures are anti-dominant cinema. Whereas a part of Third Cinema is intensely politicized, some of it is not. India’s Bollywood film industry, for example, does not explicitly show resistance to First or Second Cinemas of the First World and is, in most part, more of an “imitation” (390) or mimicry of Hollywood entertainment industry.

Interestingly, films produced in the Third World were, at the beginning, largely ignored by Western audiences or treated with condescension, as if they were “the subaltern shadows” (Stam 281) or subordinates depending on First and Second Cinemas from North America and Western Europe. Viewed from that perspective, Third World Cinema today seems quite an “anachronistic label” (291). The films produced in the Third World are far from being marginal appendages (ibid.) to the First World Cinema; not only are they integral part of world cinema but now, at the beginning of the third millennium, they produce the majority of films throughout the globe (291) overcoming the production numbers of American and Western studios together.

The major American studios are “no longer the puppeteer of a world system of images, but only one mode of a complex transnational construction of ‘imaginary landscapes’,” (287) writes Robert Stam. The core of the Third World Cinemas is made up of the major film industries of India, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, China, countries that have a fully developed film industry, as well as “the most recent post-independence or post-revolutionary” film industries of Cuba, Algeria, Senegal, Indonesia (291) together with Latin American, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern emerging national cinemas. These are all organic part of the Third Cinema, which is a term for a complex gathering of national cinemas.

The term Fourth World originates from the need to describe the special status of a certain group of people or nations without states, which was not covered by the terms of the First, Second and Third Worlds. The Fourth World applies, for example, to the Roma in Europe, Native Americans (the First Nations) in the U.S. and Canada, Kurds in Middle East, Tibetans in China (Tibet), aboriginals in Australia, etc. A Fourth Cinema as such does not exist; however, Fourth World issues are mostly represented within the frames of the Third Cinema. It is important to remark that Fourth World people have only recently started to represent themselves with little or no mediation of the First or Second Cinemas. Among the first independent narrative fiction films of this nature written, produced, directed, and acted by Native Americans was Smoke Signals in 1998. This movie was

[a]dapted from a book by Sherman Alexie (Spokane) called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and directed by Chris Eyre (Cheyenne), its coming of age story about the young Coeur d’Alene men often pokes fun at the media. (Stam 284)

This film is an ironic, self-reflexive contemplation of Native Americans reassessing their identity in the light of contemporary cinema and television culture. “If there anything more pathetic than watching Indians on television, “says one of the men in this film, “[i]t’s watching Indians watching television” (qtd. in Stam, 284).

The radical political movements of the 1960s throughout the world induced influential changes in the cultural context also; in terms of film, this signaled the beginning of a new type of cinematic practice that was coined Third Cinema, which sought “direct political engagement with the audience” and rejected the “narrative plot structure and aesthetic visual languages” (Macdonald 35) of previous, more traditional cinematic routines.

The theoretical basis of these new, radical films was formulated in a number of manifestos written in the 1960s and 1970s, many of them founding documents of Third Cinema. The most influential essays were Glauber Rocha’s An Aesthetics of Hunger (1965), Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s Towards a Third Cinema (written in 1969 and reconsidered in a sequel entitled Some Notes on the Concept of a Third Cinema published in 1984), and Julio García Espinosa’s For an Imperfect Cinema (1969). Rocha called for a “hungry cinema” of “sad, ugly films,” Solanas and Getino urged filmmakers to produce “militant guerilla documentaries,” while Espinosa campaigned for an “imperfect cinema,” energized by the “low” forms of popular culture (Shohat and Stam 248). Early Third Cinema and Third-Worldist filmmaking were predicated on nationalism assumed as “unproblematic,” which lead to the production of films that aspired to project “national imaginaries” (Stam 289). By making national films, the movie-makers of the Third Cinema saw themselves as part of national projects.

Among these national projects was Rocha’s Aesthetics of Hunger advocated the creation of a hungry cinema. These were the metaphors “carved out” of the precarious conditions of film production of the Third World, or as Ismail Xavier claimed, they were “allegories of underdevelopment” (qtd. in Shohat and Stam 256). Rocha affirmed that “our originality is our hunger” (ibid.), and suggested that filmmakers make use of the existing situation. He also urged them to employ the revolutionary aesthetics of violence, in order to obtain films containing didactic themes, which depict social tensions and harsh realities that feed that “hunger.” In line with Rocha’s basic thoughts on hungry cinema, Espinosa suggested that filmmakers should create an imperfect cinema to represent an authentic picture of class and racial problems. If the hungry cinema focused more on the content of new films depicting vehement upheavals against the capitalist and colonial injustice, the imperfect cinema sought the methods with which it could achieve the goals of new, more radical modes of representation. As Espinosa pointed out, this cinema had to show “the process which generates the problems” (Espinosa 2005).

Imperfect cinema makes use of “the documentary or the fictional mode, or both;” it operates with “whatever genre, or all genres,” and is “a pluralistic art form” or even “a specialized form of expression” (ibid.). The imperfect cinema is represented by a number of extremely low-budget films. These are realistic representations of filmed revolutions that used mostly black-and-white pictures with few takes. The imperfect cinema is naturalist, cheap and practical: it features non-professional actors, mostly chosen on the criteria of Sergei Eisenstein’s “typage” that selected performers according to their facial physiognomy (Cf. Stam 40); it uses the technique of “bricolage” (meaning that films were made out of whatever materials were available) combined with the updated cine-poetics practices of Soviet montage-theorists (Cf. Kuleshov, Vertov, Pudovkin, Eisenstein in Chapter Two: “Do You Speak Film?: Film Language and Adaptation”). The style of the imperfect cinema recalls Dziga Vertov’s poetic documentary of “kino pravda” [cinema truth] that advocated outside-studio documentary filmmaking, in other words, the shooting of film literally out “in the streets” (Stam 45).

Espinosa stressed the fact that art was not “impartial” or “uncommitted,” and continued by saying that the function of arts was to overthrow the elites in the interrelated context of scientific developments, “social presence of the masses, and the revolutionary potential in the contemporary world” (ibid.). Similar to the feminist films, the imperfect cinema takes into serious consideration its audience, but in a slightly different way than the feminists. Espinosa believed that there is always an audience for the imperfect films that are „enjoyable, both for the maker and for its new audience” (ibid.). The latter can, in turn, recognize itself as the main subject of the movies.

Imperfect cinema finds a new audience in those who struggle, and it finds its themes in their problems. For imperfect cinema, “lucid” people are the ones who think and feel and exist in a world which they can change. In spite of all the problems and difficulties, they are convinced that they can transform it in a revolutionary way. Imperfect cinema therefore has no need to struggle to create an “audience.” On the contrary, it can be said that at present a greater audience exists for this kind of cinema than there are filmmakers able to supply that audience. (Espinosa 2005)

Spectators can see their own realities through the imperfect cinema, and this should incite them to fight for changes. The imperfect cinema is militant, revolutionary, and aims to provide answers to the complex social and political issues present in the given society. The imperfect cinema is, above all, “imperfect” not only in terms of topic and methodology but also in the sense that it is not a closed work: it remains an open “question which will discover its own answers in the course of its development” (ibid.).

The idea of the hungry and imperfect films paralleled with Solanas and Getino’s call for a
Third Cinema in response to the cultural imperialism of dominant cinemas. Solanas and Getino understood that there was a need for a “culture of subversion which will carry with it an art, a science, and a cinema of subversion,” (Solanas and Getino 46) in a world where the First Cinema was nothing more than a “movie-life” and a reality as it was “conceived by the ruling classes” (51). The precursors of the Third Cinema (the “author’s cinema,” the “expression cinema,” the “nouvelle vague,” among other trends of the Second Cinema that challenged the First Cinema) were progressive steps forward in the politics of cinematic representation demanding “the filmmaker be free to express himself in a non-standard language” by which she or he was able to achieve the “cultural decolonization” of film (ibid.).

The Third Cinema, in Solanas and Getino’s view, was a “cinema of liberation” (52) that recognized, presented, and propagated the “anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of the Third world” and of their equivalents “inside the imperialist countries,” considering this battle as “the most gigantic cultural, scientific, and artistic manifestation of our time, the great possibility of constructing a liberated personality with each people as the starting point―in a word, the decolonization of culture” (47). The ideological precursors of the Third Cinema in terms of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist class struggle were Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera (1929), György Lukács, Bertold Brecht and Walter Benjamin. They recognized the ways in which “socio-economic and cultural forces of modernity could brutalise, mystify, and manipulate masses” (Wayne 41). “[P]assionate, angry, often satirical,” but always complex, the Third Cinema comprises a “body of theory and filmmaking practice committed to social and cultural emancipation” (5). This cinema employs “different forms of documentary” and creates films “across the range of fictional genres,” at the same time challenging “the traditional ways of filmmaking and its mode of consumption” (ibid.).

In the discussion of the Battle of Algiers (1965, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo), Mike Wayne identifies four key markers that distinguish Third Cinema from the other two cinemas: the first is its historicity (historical authenticity), the second is the strong political commitment, the third is the rigorous critical stance, and the last is the cultural specificity of these films (Wayne 14). To sum up,

Third cinema is characterized by its intimacy and familiarity with culture – both in the specific sense of cultural production (for example, song, dance, theatre, rituals, cinema, literature) and in the broader sense of the word (the nuances of everyday living). Further, Third Cinema explores how culture is a site of political struggle. History has shown that one of the first things which colonialism and imperialism attempt to control, in parallel with economic resources, is culture, where values and beliefs and identities are forged and re-forged. (22)

Similar to the metaphor of the “camera stylo” in the auteurist cinema (Cf. Chapter Five “Cinema and Its Discontents: Auteur, Studio, Star”), the authors of “Towards a Third Cinema” envisage the camera as a “rifle” in their “guerilla activity” (Solanas and Getino 57) with the moving pictures as the ideological outcome of this symbolic fight. Moreover, in the early 1960s and early 1970s a lot of revolutionary activity, especially in Latin America, was based around armed groups (Wayne 56) and this conditioned the existence of a “belligerent” filmmaking and cinematic practice. The result was, in this context, a guerilla cinema (ibid.). Different from Vertov’s “kino-eye” (Cf. Chapter Two: “Do You Speak Film?: Film Language and Adaptation”), which was an all-pervasive camera protruding in areas seen and unseen, the early Third Cinema’s naturalist representations were visual “reflexological shock effects” (Stam 40). These remind viewers of Eisenstein’s technique of the “kino-fist” (ibid.), a term denoting the reaction of surprise and shock at some images or events. This reinforced the revolutionary and militant character of cinema (Solanas and Getino 61) that was made for and about masses, and which sought to explore unknown filmic methods and topics analogous to the path finding activity of a guerrilla fighter.

The existence of a revolutionary cinema is inconceivable without the constant and methodical exercise of practice, search, and experimentation. It even means committing the new filmmaker to take the chances on the unknown, to leap into space at times, exposing himself to failure as does the guerrilla who travels along paths that he himself opens up with machete blows. The possibility of discovering and inventing film forms and structures that serve a more profound vision of our reality resides in the ability to place oneself on the outside limits of the familiar, to make one’s way amid constant dangers. (57)

The team producing a Third Cinema was associated, in turn, with a guerilla unit. The camera was their “inexhaustible expropriator of image-weapons,” and the implementation of ideology conveyed by this camera was delivered by the projector, which was equated with a “gun that can shoot 24 frames per second” (58). This propaganda “gun” worked regardless of cultural differences. Solanas and Getino believed that a film of the Third Cinema, which is about the Venezuelan guerrillas, or the May events in France, or on student struggle in Berkeley USA, conveyed more information than any explanatory pamphlets (60-61).

The birth of the Third Cinema marked “the most important revolutionary artistic event of our times” (64), claimed Solanas and Getino, who directed La Hora De Los Hornos: Notas ytestimonios sobre el neocolonialismo, la violencia y la liberation [Hour of the Furnaces: Notes and testimonies about neocolonialism, violence and liberty] in 1968. This film was the practical outcome of the directors’ manifesto on the Third Cinema. A few years later, The Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), a similar, important work of theory and subsequent filmic practice was realized by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen in relation to gender representation (Cf. Chapter Six “All Sides of the Camera”). Ella Shohat and Robert Stam describe this Argentinean film inaugurating the Third Cinema:

Hour is structured as a tripartite political essay. The first section, “Neocolonialism and Violence,” reveals Argentina as an amalgam of European influences: “British Gold, Italian hands, French Books.” A series of “Notes” (“The daily Violence,” “The Oligarchy,” “Dependency”) explores various forms of neocolonial oppression. The second section, “An Act for Liberation,” subdivides into a “Chronicle of Peronism,” covering Perón’s rule from 1945 through his deposition in 1955, and “Chronicle of Resistance,” detailing the opposition struggle during Perón’s exile. The third section, “Violence and Liberation,” consists of an open ended series of interviews, documents, and testimonials. (Shohat and Stam 261)

Before and during the making of this film, the directors discovered another new facet of cinema: people who, until then were considered spectators started to actually participate in the events generated by the Third Cinema (Solanas and Getino 61). Afterwards it became obvious that each person attending the screenings of La Horas De Los Hornos was aware that she or he was “infringing the System’s laws” and exposing her or his “personal security to eventual repression” (ibid.). The militant Third Cinema accurately mirrored spectators’ everyday problems and, as a result, they easily identified with the social consciousness and the political stance of the film’s actors. As Solanas and Getino observed, the persons constituting audience were no longer spectators,

on the contrary, from the moment one decided to attend the showing, from the moment he lined himself up on this side by taking risks and contributing his living experience to the meeting, he became an actor, a more important protagonist than who appeared in the films […] The spectator made way for the actor, who sought himself in others. (ibid.)

The concept of the Third Cinema was born in Latin America and many of the early Third Cinema films originated there as well. However, one cannot talk about Latin American cinema as an entity with fixed boundaries (Stock xxii). Despite their counter-dominant approaches, the cinemas of Latin America present a rather complex picture. Early Latin American films were significantly influenced by Hollywood but later film productions in Latin America adopted a synchretic style resulting from the combination of classical narrative cinema and local traditions. By 1930, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil were the only countries which had national film industries. The most popular film genres during the first decades of the twentieth century were “the tanguerra” in Argentina, which represented tango melodramas based―as the name suggests―on Argentina’s indigenous dance, the tango; “the chanchada,” a hybrid form of Hollywood musicals combined with Brazilian samba dance, carnival, and comic theatre traditions in Brazil; and “the ranchada” or cowboy musical together with “the cabareteras” or cabaret melodramas in Mexico (Hayward 428).

Emerging from the hybrid grounds of synchretic film style, cinema nôvo (spelled also Cinema Nôvo) appeared in Brazil in the early 1950s and, influenced by the Italian neo-realist movement, signaled a special “style and critical aesthetic of non-alignment with other cinemas” (Hayward 55- 56). Glauber Rocha founded the theory of the movement in “An Aesthetics of Hunger” and “An Aesthetics of Violence,” both published in 1965, which he later developed into a book entitled Revoluçao do Cinema Nôvo [The Revolution of Cinema Novo] that came out in 1981. In the 1960s, as the result of the social-economical condition in Brazil, where “poverty, starvation and violence were the daily diet” of most people, this type of cinema (mostly documentaries portraying the lives of everyday people) became even “more populist and revolutionary” than before (56). Directors like, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Rui Guerra, Carlos Diegues, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, and Glauber Rocha, only to name a few, “blended history, myth and popular culture” (56) in their films (for more information on these directors see Senses of Cinema Great Directors Database). Other cinema nôvo directors made so-called Tropicalist style movies that “fused Catholic religion with indigenous mysticism, allegory with legend, and semi-pagan religion cult with African-Latin American ritual producing a more surreal cinema” (Hayward 430) than other similar new films.

Cinema nôvo stood as a model for many “new wave” movements in Western world and provided “an alternative model for the emergent cinemas of Latin America and the Third World as a whole,” grounding the “paths to economic and ideological decolonization” worldwide (“Cinema Novo” 1). The achievements of the cinema nôvo had a strong worldwide impact. Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese were only a handful of directors among many others that “express admiration for Brazil’s new cinema (Stam 291), which influenced the development of new perspectives in the cinemas across the globe, too.

Cinema Nôvo was contemporary with the French nouvelle vague, the independent cinema of North America, British free cinema, Spanish and Argentine nuevo cine, Cuban revolutionary cinema, the birth of Black African cinema and movements of renewal in countries as different as Japan and Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, its true significance can only be appreciated in the context of Brazilian culture. The crisis in the traditional production system created a climate in which the new Brazilian cinema and similar movements could be welcomed and could achieve international success. (“Cinema Novo” 2)

Following the Latin American achievements in terms of new cinema, there was a great deal of “cross-fertilization,” “migration of talent,” and cultural exchange between cinematic cultures of Europe and the Americas: European and American filmmakers came to work in Latin America and Latin Americans filmmakers went to Europe; Cubans contributed to Mexican and Argentinian cinemas while Argentinians went to Brazil and Venezuela to make films (Hayward 429). As Gerald M. Macdonald observed, “the goals and practices of Third Cinema, once articulated in the Latin American contexts quickly spread worldwide, first to other Third World countries, but later to the oppressed regions and peoples of the First World, as well” (Macdonald 37). The heritage of transnational exchanges (that existed before the 1960s) intensified, and multiple co-productions opened the way for new “dynamics of exchange” known as transculturation (Hayward 429) in cinema in particular and in culture in general.

During the peak of imperialism cinema was brought to the colonial administrative centers mainly for the entertainment of the European colonizers. The earliest productions in the colonies made by mainly by the colonizers were “limited in number and tended to be ethnographic studies of the colonized” (Macdonald 35). However, following the independence of their countries, ex-colonial filmmakers proceeded to establish subsequent national cinemas (ibid.)

Cinema arrived in Africa quite early; screenings took place in 1896 in South Africa and at the beginning of the 1900s in Senegal (Hayward 402). The first films made in Africa were ethnographic films where black Africans and their culture were “exoticized for consumption” in Western societies (ibid.). A schematic view of recent African cinemas encompasses the regional filmmaking of the SubSahara and North Africa. Sub-Saharan cinema is even today “at a neo-colonialist stage” (401), in the sense that

most countries have not yet reached full democratic status primarily because of the indirect domination by Europe or the United States (in the form of military oligarchies or dictatorships) and/or by the economic hi-jacking of these countries to whom huge loans have been made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund but which no country is in a state to repay. (401-402)

Sub-Saharan cinema started its creative activity in the 1950s with short films (403) and had a low production rate due to the lack of finances and poor planning strategies (405). During the colonial period this part of the world was divided between Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and the Netherlands that produced three distinct linguistic spheres in the culture of the region, which influenced the cinematic practice of the colonies: Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone or Portuguese (401). Among these, African Francophone cinemas enjoyed a more sustained material support than the other two, despite the fact that Ghana and Nigeria (with its studio named Nollywood) inherited the colonial legacy of more sophisticated studios than elsewhere in the region (404). Today, “apart form the Ghanaian Film School in Accra and a few university-base film departments where filmmaking is taught” generally through video-making, “African filmmakers are dependent on filmtraining abroad” (403) in French schools, in Russia, Italy, etc. Among the directors of Sub-Saharan African cinemas are Souleymane Cissé, Ola Balogun, Djibrik Diop Mambéty, Ousmane Sembène, and Hubert Ogunde, to name only a few.

North African cinemas are represented by the Egyptian cinema, the cinema of the Maghreb countries (for example, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania), and the cinema of Eastern Arab states (for example, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, The Sudan, Syria). North African filmmaking begun in the 1920s; the center of North African cinema was in Egypt. Founded in the 1930s, the Egyptian film industry “dominated the Arab film world” (408), and was popular especially with its successful Egyptian musicals. At the time, Egypt exported this cultural product throughout the entire Arab world. These massive film exports influenced most emerging Arab national cinemas in the region, which were founded on the standards and practices of the Egyptian cinema (409). The list of most important Egyptian directors includes Bahiga Hafez (a woman director in the
thirties), Salah Abou Seif (studio dramas), Youssef Chahine (mostly all genres), Toufik Saleh (practitioner of the Third Cinema) (409), and others. The Maghrebine cinema was born after the postindependence period (of the 1950s and the1960s); its most prolific component is the Algerian cinema. The filmmaking infrastructure in the Eastern Arab states is still developing; these countries “have yet to produce a national cinema” that competes with Egypt’s or Algeria’s film industry (410).

Contemporary studies of African cinema examine the “adequacy of current methodologies for dealing with what cinema has become in Africa” (Mhando 2000). This task was undertaken by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, the author of Black African Cinema (1994), who wrote about the need to eliminate the “outmoded and untenable myths which permeate the interpretation of African history, culture and now cinema, of how Africa is seen as a cinematographic desert” (Ukadike qtd. in Mhando 2000). Martin Mhando sees African filmmaking as a developing cinema reflecting particular and generally poor conditions of production and distribution. He says that “over the last two decades” the African cinema witnessed an extremely low production of full feature films and was also faced with the “regression of the ‘educational’ documentary,” while the number of mostly videotaped docudramas increased (Mhando 2000). The future of African cinema, according to black African filmmakers, lies in the unity of all national filmmaking with the aim to represent African identities authentically and, therefore, to undo the fake images of black Africans (Hayward 405) in the local and global dominant cinema.

Indian cinema is the largest film industry in the world, creating and releasing around 800 films a year (compared to US production of 400-600 movies a year), which are then “screened for approximately fifteen million people a day,” writes Jyotika Virdi (The Cinematic ImagiNation, 1). The cinema is “the dominant cultural institution and product in India” because it provides “affordable entertainment,” and “resonates powerfully with the Indian diaspora often becoming their only connection with the homeland” (2). It is also among the main cultural sources of “intergenerational culture diasporic families share” (ibid.) outside India’s borders. As Susan Hayward remarked, Indian cinema is a “big business” when it comes to the topic of stars, which have major influence and often play an active role in politics, too (Hayward 419). Developing from a cinema that produced Hindu mythologicals (films made from Hindu myths), fantasy movies, song-dance-action films, melodramas, and orientalist narratives with tones of criticism of the colonial-nationalist conflicts (421), current Hindi films ranging from the most popular, earlier styles to the Indian art cinema, best exemplified by the films of Satyajit Ray, and to the avant-garde forms of quite diverse, Third, counter-cinemas.

Indian cinema is an umbrella term for a myriad of various cinematic hubs that can be distinguished by the region in which they are produced. The core of the Indian cinema is Bollywood (Hindi language cinema based in Mumbay/Bombay), a name created by the combination of Bombay and Hollywood. Other major cinemas are Tollywood, centered in Hyderabad, is the heart of the Telugu Film Industry, Telugu being the second most spoken language in India; Bengali Cinema (in Bengali language) resides in Kolcata (Calcutta); Kollywood is the Tamil Cinema with its headquarter in Chennai; the Malayalam Cinema of Kerala, the Kashmiri and the Marathi film industry, the Kannada or Sandalwood from Karnataka, all organic components of the Indian film industry. Regionally and stylistically close to the great Indian film industry (but not part of it) is Bangaldesh’s Dallywood (based in Dhaka) and the Urdu and Punjabi film industry of Lollywood from Lahore, Pakistan.

The Indian cinema or, more generally, Hindi films “openly address class conflicts” and “depict avaricious industrialists, middlemen, moneylenders, traders, and landlords as exploiting workers, the landless, and the underprivileged” (Virdi 2003, 14). The Indian society is extremely “conscious of class, caste, and ethnic identity” (15). The cinema, accordingly, submits to these standards by sustaining the “heterosexual romance, which itself is largely a figment of Hindi films’ imagination,” (ibid.) Virdi points out. The topic of gender in Indian movies is presented in a colonial context. Throughout the Indian history and in cinematic representations, the woman is “an embattled one, a site on which colonial and communal conflicts have been fought through the twentieth centuries” (13). Issues of gender have been mobilized “as a sign to unify” India against the Western ideologies, and Hindi movies build on the idea of a unified nation, with the woman as its unique symbol (ibid.). Moreover, the issues of caste and religions that have actually been “constitutionally outlawed” in India, are still present in films as “a subtext buried within class distinctions” (ibid.). Indian films, however, are not centered only on melodramatic genres which describe love, or class and caste struggle within the domestic the realm. The historical narrative is present with landmark events such as the peasant rebellion from the 1950s,

famines, shortages, and the green Revolution in the 1960s, the rise of the workers, women, and ecological movements in the 1970s and 1980s, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, the intensification of caste wars and regional separatist movements in the 1980s and 1990s, economic liberalization in the1990s, the Indo-Pak Kargil War, and nuclear testing by these two countries at the close of the twentieth century. (16)

Most conflicts in Indian films arise “from social hierarchy” and are “generally located in narratives about the family,” the most important trope through which Hindi films “build the idea of the nation” (11). Furthermore, as Virdi argues, by drawing parallels between the collective unit of the family and the nation itself, typical family conflicts are transposed onto the nation. In this sense, Hindi cinema “constantly reimagines the nation” (xiv) and, therefore, many Indian films become visual documents of social, cultural, and political transformations that take place on the subcontinent.

In the great chain of Indian film directors, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and Mira Nair are today among the most widely known. Satyajit Ray (active in the film industry from the 1950s until the 1990s) is perhaps the most celebrated filmmaker of India; his contemporary, Mrinal Sen (producing films from the 1960s through the 1990s) is renowned for his experimental style. In terms of the Third Cinema, one of Sen’s most emblematic films is The Confined (1993), which depicts the odd but fruitful relationship between a no-name young Indian woman confined in a flat by an old man, who has bought her (for pleasure when she was a child) and a young, no-name writer struggling to write his new novel. The subtext of the film’s narrative line is provided by Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Hungry Stones” (published in The Hungry Stones and Other Stories in 1916), which describes the situation of a kidnapped Persian girl that lives confined in a pleasure dome. The connection between the two young people is technologically mediated with random telephone calls, through which, by maintaining anonymity, they confide in each other. The young woman’s life changes after these discussions and the writer finds his topic, too. As the result of the talks, Sen’s young woman, as an emblematic image of India, liberates herself from her “slavery” (symbolizing both patriarchy and colonialism) and leaves the city on the same train on which the writer departs. Before getting off the train, she recognizes him by his voice (he does not know who she is because she only looks at him and does not utter a sound) but leaves, cherishing her new freedom.

Mira Nair is an acclaimed Indian-born U.S. based contemporary filmmaker. Her movies with direct Indian relevance are: Salaam Bombay (1988), Mississippi Masala (1999), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Namesake (2007), and Shantaram (2007). Nair has initiated and runs the “Maisha” film lab project (cf. Homepage of “Maisha Film Labs”) aims to help Third World, especially East African and South Asian, filmmakers to make their own films. As Priya Lal observed, Nair’s works “retain some sort of art-school credibility to leisure-class foreigners in their thoughtful treatment of gritty Bombay street life or glorification of the exotic splendor of Hindu weddings,” making Nair a “crossover” filmmaker (Lal 2004), and an advocate of transnational cinema. Transnational cinema emerged as an alternative response to the “insufficiencies of existing categories such as National Cinema, Third World Cinema and Third Cinema to correspond with, and respond to, the conditions of the globalized world,” Vijay Devadas claims, adding that transnational cinema “was mobilized as a response to a shift in the economy of exchange from national to global, coupled with increasing economic globalization and the acceleration of technological developments” (Devadas 2006). Today, transnational cinema is a means through which the domestic industry of peripheral cinemas might have a global perspective in filmmaking and film distribution alike.

Apart from the most prolific cinema industry of the continent, Chinese Cinemas (comprised of the filmmaking of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) began at the end of the nineteenth century with the first film screenings in Shanghai and were followed by filmed Chinese operas that evolved in the first three decades of the twentieth century into visual narratives inspired by popular “Mandarin Duck” and “Butterfly” melodramatic and sentimental stories from Chinese literary tradition (Hayward 415). Due to the political changes that took place in the country, following the earlier populist cinema, films were more and more nationalist-leftist, finally resulting a cinema operated by communist ideology at the beginning of the fifties, when Chinese studios were nationalized and had to comply with the imposed Maoist propaganda (416). In the period between 1949 and 1966, Chinese cinema exposed a quorum of “worker-peasant-soldier” films made in the socialist-realist manner of the Soviet cinema (416). The period between 1966 and 1976 ideologically heralded by the Chinese Cultural Revolution (an oppressive movement led by Mao Zedong, which purged mainly intellectuals and ended in a bloodshed persecution of anyone not considered “compatible” with the system). Then there was almost no filmmaking at all in China, with the exception of ten films advocating the myth of the prefect proletarian class hero and heroine, all made under the “strict rules and filmic guidelines” imposed by the leader’s wife, Madam Mao (417). In the next ten years, a number of “scar” or “wound” films depicting the abuses of the former period ruled China’s film market, which started developing in the mid-1980 with the weakening of the state control over the national film industry (ibid.). Today, Chinese film is presented by directors that successfully combined experimentation and popular narration (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige) but also some which, blacklisted in their country (Zhang Yuan, Ning Dai), exposed their films outside China (419-419).

Hong Kong was a former British crown colony until 1997, when it became one of China’s special administrative regions. The Hong Kong film industry produces, together with the film industries of Taiwan and China, Chinese language films. Hong Kong’s filmmaking proliferated especially in the 1980s and is today in relative stagnation. A hallmark name in contemporary Hong Kong filmmaking is director John Woo, who is also known for making auteur cinema. The genres of Hong Kong cinema contain romantic melodramas and the martial arts action films (“wuxia”) which have been popularized in the West by Bruce Lee and later by Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, among many others. Roger Garcia pointed out that the “popular mythologies promoted by the martial-arts cinema and the various links these films make with contemporary reality have, however, given it another, more significant dimension” because

almost all postwar martial-arts films that constitute the genre have been produced by and for the Chinese communities outside mainland China. And to this end, they can be read as films of mythic remembrance, an emigrant cinema for an audience seeking not only its identity and links with an often imaginary cultural past, but also its legitimization. (Garcia 2001)

The kung-fu films of Hong Kong have had a strong impact on the works of American directors, especially on the cinema of Quentin Tarantino (Stam 291).

Postcolonial studies, as “the officially authorized enclave for studying the Third/First World dynamics in the academy, privileges the literary text” (Virdi 2003, x) over the filmic one. The application of postcolonial theory in cinema studies facilitates understanding through a non-Western perspective films originating from “postcolonial/post-colonial countries” (Hayward 273). The hyphenated term “post-colonial” is a historical concept and refers to the period after decolonization, while “postcolonial” denotes the theoretical and cultural backgrounds that “are influenced by or relate to the post-colonial moment” (267). The prefix “post” connotes the change that reflects the development of interpretational practices following the anti-colonial movements (Vincze et alii. 10). Postcolonial studies of film analyze products made by the West in the West, and in the colonies, both during the colonial and post-colonial stages (Hayward 274). The “post” in postcolonialism and the “post” in post-communism refer to the same moment of liberation from under an oppressive system, therefore, postcolonialism and post-communism share some common traits, too. As David Chioni Moore argued, “the Soviet Union exercised powerful colonial control” that has now ended, but which “has had manifest effects on the literatures and cultures of the postcolonial-post-Soviet nations, including” what is today the territory of “Russia” (Moore 122-123). Seen from this context, the movies produced in post-communist countries after the fall of the Iron Curtain can be regarded as “post” in a colonial sense also. Nevertheless, a great majority of the films produced today testify of the blurring of the boundaries between colonial/postcolonial, First/Second/Third Cinemas.

First Cinema and Third Cinema often meet within a film, and similar fusions can be detected in the case of Second Cinema and First Cinema, too. Second Cinema and Third Cinema can also be both present in a given movie. Many Third Cinema movies overlap with art film; moreover, after the gradual loss of its militant audience, the Third Cinema has been seeking out “art cinema’s international distribution-exhibition channels” (ibid.), and this further strengthens the ties between the Second Cinema and the Third Cinema. What is more, the products of First and Third Cinemas are “often read as Second Cinema,” and also “the products of First and Second Cinemas are sometimes used in revolutionary contexts” (Macdonald 29). The First World has always had images from the “Other Worlds,” Virdi notes, but recently popular culture (travel, tourism, literature, film, music videos, and advertisements) uses these worlds “as exotic locales for telling tales of romance and adventure of the western subject” (Virdi 2006). The very “logic of capitalism as an economic system is that it needs constant energizing through the production of new commodities, a constant search for novelty” that at least partially explains “the recent outburst of images” from exotic lands of the former colonies, underdeveloped or developing countries in the Western world (ibid.). Sometimes cinematic categories are combined in multi-national co-productions because these are “often the only way in which films can be made” in countries which do not have film industries (Hayward 401). However, not only the categories of cinemas blend in contemporary movies but the ideology and politics of representation of the First, Second, Third and Fourth worlds, as well.

An example of an interesting First World-Third World-Fourth World cinematic blend is Terminal (2004, dir. Steven Spielberg), in which the protagonist, Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) arrives to the American passport control at the JFK Airport in New York from the so-called Republic of “Krakozhia.” Despite the fact that this movie is allegedly “not based on a real-life story in any way,” there is a man “who has spent an extended amount of time” of his life in an airport (Clinton 2004). The real “Viktor Navorski” (called Merhan Karimi Nessari) is an Iranian displaced who, as Megam Basham writes, was “stuck” in 1988 in the Terminal 1 of Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport “for over seven years” before the European governments “made any attempt to resolve his situation” (Basham 2004). In 2004 (the year when Terminal was released) Nasseri, sadly, was still residing in the same place (ibid.).

Navorski’s name suggests a person of Slavic origin and to reinforce the idea of a postcommunist background he is also speaking a thick Bulgarian accent. His phantom “home,” strongly alluding to a former constituent state of the Soviet Union, does not exist in real life. The Republic of Krakozhia “technically does not exist” (Spielberg 2004) in the story of the film either, it is like Twilight Zone (TV series, 1959-1964, by various directors) by the time Navorski reaches the borders of the U.S. The protagonist has to face the consequences of being a citizen without a country. Finally, he finds out from the main American news channel (suggestively named “GHN” after the CNN channel) that a military coup has overthrown his country’s previous government (an almost explicit reference to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the unstable political balance in the region of the Caucasus and Balkans that followed afterwards) that resulted in an anarchic period in which he became an “unacceptable” (Spielberg 2004), citizen of a non-existent country.

The Director of Costumes and Border protection at JFK, Officer Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), explains this paradoxical situation by telling Navorski that he “has fallen through a small crack in the system” (Spielberg 2004). Not perceiving the meaning of the words, Navorski replies without hesitation the most fitting response: “I am crack.” (ibid., emphasis added). This “crack” can be read as the metaphor for someone caught between the worlds, in a no man’s land, where identity is not a matter of administrative category any more. With an invalid passport, Navorski turns out to be a citizen of “nowhere.” He does not belong to the First World or to the Third World, or to the collapsed Second World, and is neither one of the Fourth World individuals. Not having an official status denoting his identity, he cannot enter the U.S. and he cannot travel back; therefore he gets stuck in the symbolic space of the International Transit Lounge of the JFK Airport waiting for his right to pass.

He is inter-national in his flee-floating status and local in his attachment to his roots. Navorski is a political nomad, a “Middle-worlder” (Breytenbach 57). This concept denotes a “hybrid” (mixed identity) person with a “vivid consciousness” of being the different, the other, and “proud of it” (ibid.), qualities that help him overcome the sometimes impassable rules of First World administration. As a Middle-worlder, Navorski is defined by what he is not, or no longer, and not by what he opposes or even rejects (47); as a Middle-worlder he practices a “nomadic thinking” (57). As a Middle-worlder, he is endowed with a special social empathy with the help of which he recognizes “affinities with other Middle-worlders” (58). It is these attributes that help Navorski befriend and help an impressive number of Third and Fourth World people from the First World in  he multicultural International Transit Lounge (for example, Gupta, the Indian janitor, colored airport officers of both genders, Diego, the Latino runway worker, the staff of fast-food restaurants and other shops, etc.) who, in turn, help him, too. Despite the fact that Terminal is considered First Cinema, its has pervasive elements of Third Cinema, also, which suggests that there is a tendency in the First Cinema to blend its modes of representation with that of the Third Cinema, and vice versa.

Today, when the world is perceived, more than ever, in terms of multicultural, plural issues that interweave local and global concerns it is evident that the field of the Third World Cinemas “will become increasingly better known” (Hayward 398-399) than a few decades before. The popularity of the Third Cinema is also the outcome of the theories that Third World Cinemas have established. Simultaneously with a fast-developing technology, film consumption intensifies, especially through free or paid access to movies on the Internet (cf. Chapter Eight “Ultimately Onscreen: The Futures of the Cinema in the Age of New Media”), with “more and more images” made available to the “globalized consumers” through which “these ‘unexplored’ cinemas” will also become “steadfastly more available” (Hayward 399). In a globalized world, transnational films and films built on the dynamics of transculturation will further help viewers “understand how ethnic, regional, and national identities reconstitute themselves” (Canclini 256). But the availability and understanding of other cultures through films is not enough. As Robert Stam and Louise Spence write, we should be conscious and aware of “the cultural and ideological assumptions spectators bring to the cinema,” as well as of “the institutionalized expectations,” and “the mental machinery that serves as the subjective support to the film industry,” which leads people to “consume films in a  ertain way” (647). These are complex aspects that need a more thorough, further investigation.


Source: Encounters of the Filmic Kind: Guidebook to Film Theories Réka M. Cristian and Zoltán Dragon JATEPress, 2008.

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