Sunday, April 12, 2009

Group Post #6: Adam, Matt

Hamid Naficy discusses the interstitial mode of production. Where does this stand in relation to other modes of production? How does the interstitial mode of production manifest itself in the style and content of its films? Filmmakers working in this mode faced some of the same challenges that independent filmmakers in the United States faced in the late 1980s and 1990s. In what ways are emergent national cinemas similar or dissimilar to the independent film movement?

The films we watched from emerging national cinemas tended to have simple or minimal narratives. Many of the characters and places can be seen as allegories for larger concepts. To what extent are the filmmakers of these movements more concerned with portraying general situations that their people went through, as opposed to telling a specific story about specific characters? Much of the content in the films coming out of emergent cinemas is subversive. Do these cinemas, like Godard’s counter-cinema, also subvert mainstream techniques?

In the article entitled “The National”, Paul Willemen argues that by isolating individual cultures within a certain area through “multicultural” tendencies, “the host culture conspires with the conservative upholders of an imagined ‘ethnicity’ to draw lines around those ‘other’ cultural practices, ghettoizing them.” Is this the case within Sembene’s The Camp at Thiaroye? Or does this film represent a break from this position of otherness? Is the film solely defined by its relation to French colonialism? Does the fact that this film was produced by three separate nations (Senegal, Algeria, and Tunisia) all under French rule continue to ghettoize these peoples as cultural others or is there a collective strength represented here against colonialism in this collaboration?

In Rey Chow’ article, Fredric Jameson is quoted as writing that, “all third world texts are necessarily to be read as national allegories.” Does this hold true in terms of the films that we watched this week? In what way can these films be read as national allegories? Is it possible for these films to be interpreted in other ways outside of this scope? Is it possible for any “third world cinema” to be understood as simply a film within itself as opposed to having some deeper national connection? Why aren’t western films to be seen as national allegories?


  1. In response to part 2:
    I don't know the extent to which filmmakers engaged in national cinema are aiming to portray situations more than characters, but certainly their films, as far as they are categorized as national cinema, can only be understood as such. While there are American films about historic events, and these may be very nationalistic, they come off much different from films like Camp at Thiaroye. I'm thinking of Flags of Our Fathers, just because it's the first American film about American military involvement that came to mind (at least it wasn't Pearl Harbor ;D). Maybe it's because we're the home of Hollywood, but I think other nations would acknowledge a similar national distinctness as well.
    There's probably something in the notion that any movie with a narrative is compared to the established Hollywood model for cinema. I'm not sure if we can help this, or if it even needs to be helped. Willemen said it's important to neither deny your own country's influences when watching a national film or regard the film solely as foreign. That balance is important, but I wonder how much finding such a balance would vary in situations such as, for examples, a German watching an English film, an American watching an Iranian film, or a Korean watching a Senegalese film.
    And foreign national cinema should not be lumped into American or European cinema movements. An African film with heavily Surrealist attributes (if such a thing existed?) would have those attributes for very different historical reasons. So I suppose whether or not they are "subverting mainstream techniques" should be irrelevant with respect to American mainstream, which means that a national cinema is only engaging in such subversion so far as it is clear from the cinematic history of their nation. But even this may not be true, since nations further behind in cinematic technology must inevitably be first exposed to other cinema. Then the "mainstream techniques" per nation would depend on national history both in itself and in terms of its exposure to the cinema of other nations. Still, determining whether they are subverting anything seems a hard task.

  2. Unlike classical dominant narrative cinema, international films perform a vastly different socio-cultural function. For instance, Yellow Earth marks a controversial period of history of China, when the nation was fragmented by and suffering from the collapse of faith in the modern, socialist politics and culture. In such political context a story of characters, who reflect the social issues versus a story of specific characters is more significant and representative of a country that was producing few films in the 80s. This films promotes not a single character and his individual, personal story, but the Chinese character, which marks a new type of hero and issues of the resurrecting Chinese cinema. So, major political and social issues addressed in the film and the way they are approached, marked a significant stylistic breakthrough in new Chinese cinema. Yellow Earth is a great story not about an individual psyche, but about the Chinese nation as a whole; this is a film about the encounter between a soldier and peasants, which symbolically refers to an inevitable confrontation of ancient and modern China.

  3. It seems to me that these emerging cinemas present these more general situations over more personal ones for a financial reason. Like the "independent" filmmakers we studied, these foreign filmmakers do not have very much money to work with, so therefore they are forced to do as much as they absolutely can with their one film (a second one cannot be assumed). In light of this, it seems to me that if they can only tell one story, they more often than not choose to tell a story that is significant to their country and their people. I think there is also the notion that these emerging filmmakers almost have to make a film like that, because that is what has come to be expected from them. They also need to do something that will differentiate them from the crowd, ergo the "subversive" techniques and material that these films tend to have. It can also be assumed that in some of these places (like Africa), there isn't much exposure to film, much less to the "classical" Hollywood film. Therefore these films aren't really a challenge to classical film as much as they're a film form that developed from a world more or less untouched by the filmic conventions that Americans have been so used to since the 1910's. But i would say that, as the film industries in these countries grow, so do their films start to lose their emergent cinema feel. India comes to my mind - they came onto the film scene with the serious, socially-minded films like the Apu Trilogy, yet today Indian film is synonymous with the very-much-Hollywood-inspired Bollywood films. When there is only one film to make, it becomes a song of the people who make it, yet when there are many movies to make, they become more of a pet project, something much more personal. In this regard, they seem to be very much like the "independent" filmmakers that we studied.

  4. I think that it is necessary to keep in mind that not only are many of the "national" films we are watching, be it Camp at Thiaroye, Yellow Earth, or Red Sorghum, are dealing with historical events in different ways than American films. In the former, the historical events are not singular moments, but ongoing or repeating historical situations, many of which have not been dealt with in the collective conscious. For example, Camp at Thiaroye is not a specific event, but representative of any of many instances. Furthermore, Camp at Thiaroye, Yellow Earth, and Red Sorghum deal with the identities/identity issues that have emerged as a result of greater historical forces: contact with the Western world, influence of capitalism, rise of Communism, and so on. Clearly it would be an overgeneralization to say that there are no such analogous instances in the United States; however, in the United States, these instances effect minority (which should not here be limited to class or race) groups within the country moreso than the overwhelming majority. Thus, in the United States, we find that comparable films focus on individual stories that may represent a large group albeit still a minority within the country. Take "Do the Right Thing" for example, it is a very specific, focused, subject; we do not stray away from a few blocks in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood. However, we would not say that the relationships we encounter in the film are completely unique to that block. Rather, the film speaks to larger themes underlying race relations and the identity issues that result from them. I wonder though too, what would be at stake if we did take this film to be a national cinema. Does its specificity alienate audience members who aren't implied in the group that the film deals most directly with?

  5. Emerging national cinemas interact with the spectator in a very different way than domestic American films; because there is an assumption of an international audience for certain films, many are trying to bring a fresh perspective to a developing medium.

    Yellow Earth, for example, offers an interesting stylistic departure from the American norm. The shots are infused with Daoist principles; the framing is such as to fill or emphasize certain structures in a way that American cinematographers do not. The shots are typically composed in a way that is simple, contemplative, and especially not overtly busy. This leads to an interesting new framing. A major difference I noticed with the framing regards the ways the camera allocates space for faces and backgrounds. The camera cuts off heads and other parts of bodies in a way that American cinema does not. Concepts such as "head room" or the "rule of thirds" are not as applicable. Backgrounds often overpower the shot (as in one of the first ones with the man walking towards the camera low in the frame) or are just a sliver at the top (during the pans of the rolling hills scenery in the opening sequence).

    These different stylistic decisions in turn emphasize the Daoist principles accentuated in the plot. The shots are simple. The narrative is simple. In these movies the nation is emphasized as a whole. Cultures and communities are accented more than individuals. American cinema, like our culture, focuses on the individual. There is more independence to the characters, both in terms of their actions and their emotions, in addition to the way that the audience interacts with them.

    Ultimately the style and the narrative of a film from any country interacts uniquely with the country in which it is made. American films often highlight American values while other International films will pay special attention to the nature of their audiences: their hopes and dreams, their emotions and feelings, and certainly their values and morals.