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A Brighter Summer Day / Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jean, Taiwan, 1991

Posted by keith1942 on August 13, 2020

This was a film restored under the auspices of The World Film Foundation . I saw it in a screening at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Previously I had only seen a shortened version which runs for three hours; but in the World Film Foundation the film has been restored to its original 237 minute length. The shortened version appears to have had mainly subsidiary scenes that refer to supporting characters edited out. The main story is still clear in this version, but the complete film fills out the world of school and gang cultures.

This is clearly an epic film to watch, but one that amply repays the time spent. Yang shares some characteristics with his fellow Taiwanese film-maker, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The latter’s Three Times / Zul Hao de Shiguang (2005) covers a slightly later period in its first story, A Time for Love. The long shot and the long take dominate the film. Yang frequently uses slow pans that allow a viewer’s gaze to survey the settings in which events occur. And the narrative follows an elliptical course, becoming quite complex as it cuts between a number of major characters. It opens, a title informs us, in September 1960.

The following contains plot spoilers.

The central characters in the film are Xiao Si’r (Zhang Zhen) and his family, which includes an elder brother and three sisters. His father is a civil servant who migrated to the island when the Guomindang fled the mainland after losing the Civil War with the Chinese Communist Party.

One recurring family incident concerns a valuable watch belonging to the mother which the sons ‘borrow’ in order to pawn and raise money. A key early scene concerning the watch is missing in the short version.

Si’r attends a ‘night school’, in Taipei. Taiwan appears to have had an unusual arrangement of schools in this period, with less privileged pupils attending some daytime and some evening classes. Much of the action occurs in the school and we see a variety of classes and actions there. Examinations and tests are frequent.

The other important, though unofficial, institution is the youth gang. The films focuses on the rivalry between the Little Park Gang [which includes Si’r and his friends] and the 217 Gang, which is from a working class district. The youth gang culture actually afflicted the island in this period. And the violent climax that resolves the film was also based on an actual incident that the director remembered from his youth. An opening title suggests that the gangs are a manifestation of young people’s insecurity, resulting from their parent’s own insecurities after fleeing the mainland for the Island.

The film’s primary focus is male. Si’r close friends are Cat [Wang Qizan] and Airplane [Ke Yulun]. And there is an uneasy relationship with Sly [Chen Hongyu], the substitute leader of Little Park Gang. The original leader, Honey [Lin Hongming], had to go into hiding following a fatal incident. At school Si’r acquires another friend Ma [Tan Zhigang], who comes from a more affluent military family. He has been moved to the school after an earlier and violent incident at another institution.

Another key character is Ming [Lisa Yang], a girl pupil at Si’r school with whom he gradually develops a relationship. She was originally the girl friend of Honey, and appears to have other relationships as well. But the films masculine focus includes a critical perspective. Ming tells Si’r that, like all her boyfriends, ’you want to change me’ for selfish reasons. All these characters are affected by the ups and downs in gang conflicts.

The screenplay that Yang wrote with three colleagues, both evokes and comments on the troubled times that followed the Guomindang’s arrival in Taiwan. The defeated nationalist party instituted an authoritarian state, though one that went unremarked by its US allies even as they denounced ‘totalitarian’ Mainland China. In the film Si’r’s father [Zhang Guozhu] is the victim of a secret police interrogations whose purpose is never clearly explained. Like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Yang’s films explore the impact of the Taiwan’s chequered history on its inhabitants. Both are now able to explore the repressions and conflicts that for years were not publicly recognised.

The complexities of plot and character mean that an audience has to work to follow events and developments. One of the pleasures of a second viewing was I was able to explore the film more fully. Also, seeing the full-length version for the first time I noted scenes that previously been missing, and which filled out some of the characters and their situations. Yang has a real mastery of mise en scène, and the long takes enable one to note the settings and the many visual motifs that help construct the film.

One of these is light. The film opens with a shot of a solitary light bulb. Early in the film Si’r acquires a torch, which he then carries for most of the rest of the film. He pinches the torch from a film studio that he visits one evening. Just before the film’s climax he returns and inadvertently leaves the torch. And the lighting and blocking in the film constantly reinforce this theme. Torchlight, candlelight, power cuts and blackouts are spread across the film. Much of the film is shot in twilight or at night. Some scenes, with large blocks and shadows, reveal only little of the action. Sight and watching is another motif: characters frequently stand and observe other characters. Si’r himself has an eye ailment for which he receives injections at school.

One of the arresting images in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times was the snooker hall in the sequence ‘A Time for Love’. Similarly in Yang’s film a snooker bar is an important setting. But this is a seedier and darker site than in the later film. The most violent confrontation between the two gangs takes place here.

The film also has a fine soundtrack. One frequently finds oneself listening to accompanying sounds like bands, firing ranges, bicycles, doors and so on. The film uses music to comment on the narrative. The film’s title is taken from Elvis Presley’s song, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’, which is sung by one of Si’r friends, Cat, after Si’r elder sister [Wang Juan] has transcribed the lyrics. The song re-appears in the final sequence of the film, and is clearly ironic.

A Brighter Summer Day is an extremely fine film that is certainly worth a viewing. I can think of considerably shorter films that seem to take a lot longer on screen. Its complexities are beyond a relatively short review. For example the film studio that appears briefly in the film offers an interesting commentary on film itself. In his last visit a disillusioned Si’r shouts at the director [Danny Dunn] that he cannot tell ‘real from fake’. The portrayal of Taiwanese society in an early period offers a representation rather removed from that common in western states where Taiwan is seen as a bulwark against China; still regarded as a ‘communist’ state.

This is really an auteur film. The issue of the ‘national’ is complicated by the question of China since the counter-revolution. As a state run by the force of the market the primary contradiction in China is the class struggle between labour and capital. This is the same contradiction that operates in Taiwan. And Taiwan remains under the dominance of the US imperialists It would seem that a revolution would offer more to both societies if this was a struggle combining the working class in both states. Taiwan has developed its own film industry and in recent years, with the decline of the authoritarian aspect of the state, film-makers, as noted in the above, have been able to explore that history in a more critical manner. From this it might seem that the situation is more positive here than in authoritarian China.

Director Edward Yang, died in June 2007. This film is in 1.85:1 and colour;  in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Shanghainese with English subtitles.

The World Cinema Foundation is dedicated to the ‘preservation and restoration of neglected films from around the world’. The moving spirit in the Foundation is Martin Scorsese. Other noted film-makers on the Board include Souleymane Cissé, Abbas Kiarostami and Wong Kar-Wai. The restored films are premièred at the Cannes Film Festival. They are also screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato. The latter is an archive festival held annually in the city of Bologna. The festival covers world cinema from the early silents up until recent productions.

 

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution USA (2015)

Posted by keith1942 on July 30, 2020

The Black Panther Party was one of the most important organisations in the struggle for full emancipation for black people in the United States. This was a struggle for Civil Rights rather than national liberation: but it was an important part of the twin struggles of class struggle in advanced capitalist societies and liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples and nations. The Panthers were, at least initially, inclined to a nationalist perspective on the struggle but as the party developed it became a more class conscious and internationalist organisation. Thus the description of ‘Vanguard of the Revolution’ in the title of this full-length featured documentary is fully deserved.

Running for just on a hundred minutes the title offers a narrative of the development of the Panthers from their founding in 1966 up until their serious decline in the early 1980s. The narrative is full of asides that focus on aspects of the Party’s History. There are portraits of the important members of the Party including Huey Newton, Bobby Hutton, Bobby lease, Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton and Elaine Brown.

The distinctive feature of the Panthers was their emphasis on self-defence for black communities. They utilised the constitutional right to bear arms in order to carry weapons for defence; and this involved monitoring police actions bearing arms. It is instructive that the Republican Party and the California governor Ronald Reagan, normally advocates of unlimited gun control, passed the Mulford Act in 1967 to restrict this right; specifically aimed at the Panthers. Even more oppressive was the reaction of the Federal government and in particular the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then led by the powerful and reactionary J. Edgar Hoover.

“counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics, designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate and assassinate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain organizational resources and manpower.” (quoted on Wikipedia).

The title presents a number of episodes where the FBI and other state security organs used and abused their powers to attempt to subvert the Panthers, on more than one occasion resulting in state sponsored murder.

Several Panther leaders were prosecuted, though the process was suspect. And this persecution resulted in broad support for the Panthers from Civil Rights and Revolutionary [in embryo] organisations and demonstrations involving large popular participation. The ‘Free Huey! Campaign’ was a notable example. But the FBI campaign was successful in the longer term as the film indicates. A notable example of these state trials was the prosecution of the ‘Chicago Eight’, including Bobby Seale, following the conflict around the 1968 Democratic Convention in the city. The conduct of the trial, including the racist treatment of Seale, can be seen in the 1970 The Chicago Conspiracy Trial and the 1987 Conspiracy The Trial of the Chicago 8. And the trial is also referenced in a number of other films, including works by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Watkins. The use of the law to pursue Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver led to them leaving the USA and finally setting up an international bureau in Algeria. The Panthers both received support from Liberation Struggles and took an open stand supporting liberation struggles. This internationalism was one of the most positive angles of the Panther politics.

Another aspect delineated in the documentary are the social activities of the Panthers. The most notable part of this was the ‘Free Breakfast for Children Program’ which ran in Los Angeles. There were also health programs and organisation actions to help black communities fight poverty and economic exploitation.

At the end of the 1960s the Panthers were well organised, successful and enjoyed respect and support across the Afro-American population. However, the overt and covert actions buy the state undermined the organisation and splits within the leadership exacerbated this. The Panthers maintained active and influential throughout the 1970s but by 1980 they were in serious decline. And sections became involved direct criminality.

The documentary charts this history with detail and much illustration. However, there is a real weakness when we look at the coverage of the politics of the Panthers. There is a reference to the 1967 ‘Ten Point Program’; but this does not present the whole programme. The documentary is also scanty in the way that it presents the influences on the Panther politics; including that of liberation movements and the ‘socialist’ camp:

Wikipedia offers Curtis Austin writing that by late 1968, Black Panther ideology had evolved from black nationalism to become more a “revolutionary internationalist movement”:

“[The Party] dropped its wholesale attacks against whites and began to emphasize more of a class analysis of society. Its emphasis on Marxist–Leninist doctrine and its repeated espousal of Maoist statements signalled the group’s transition from a revolutionary nationalist to a revolutionary internationalist movement. Every Party member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s “Little Red Book” to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.” [2006 book on the Panthers].

One wry reference in the documentary recounts how the Panthers sold the ‘Little Red Book’ on campuses for a profit. But, for example, the development from a Black Nationalist standpoint to a Revolutionary Class-conscious standpoint is not really detailed.

One response to the documentary quoted on Wikipedia is:

 “Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther Party leader, criticized the film, writing that it presents “a disparaging portrait of Huey P. Newton” and that Nelson “[excised] from his film the Party’s ideological foundation and political strategies, […] reducing our activities to sensationalist engagements, as snatched from establishment media headlines.” [Elaine Brown has appeared in discussion programmes on Al Jazeera presenting an acute analysis of C21st US capital].

Elaine Brown represents one of the other developments in the Panthers; a move away from a male chauvinist position and the relegation of women to support roles to a much more clearly defined revolutionary position on gender roles. This is something highlighted in the documentary.

The limitations of this production reflect the limitations of the main stream media with the documentary aimed at that sort of platform. Much of the illustrative film footage has been re-framed to the 16:9 standard for television. However, there is little available on the Panthers in Moving Images. There is a 2010 documentary, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers on the ‘Bay Area’ Chapter of the Panthers. The title refers to a violent raid on the Panther Chapter by the Los Angeles Police Department. The Wikipedia pages on the Panthers provide much detail of the organisation’s history.

Both PBS in the USA and BBC 4 in Britain have aired the documentary and it is likely to be aired again in the future; [it is currently appearing on the British PBS channel].. It is a flawed but  fascinating treatment of a seminal organisation in the history of US Civil Rights and even more class conscious action. Clearly the Panthers continue to exercise an importance influence which can be seen in the current ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. The latter is a varied set of groups and politics, but the more radical elements reflect both the class consciousness and the internationalism of the mature Panther Party. It is an interesting reflection on the context that whilst the only response of the state to the Panthers was organised violence there are clear attempts to co-op the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement both by capital and elements of the US state like the Democratic Party. If a high tide of revolt occurs, as was the situation when the Panthers arose, then elements in this movement might rival the Panthers in some ways.

The Black Panther Party first publicized its original “What We Want Now!” Ten-Point program on May 15, 1967, following the Sacramento action, in the second issue of The Black Panther newspaper.

We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.

We want full employment for our people.

We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.

We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.

We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.

We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.

We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.

We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

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May Day 2020

Posted by keith1942 on May 1, 2020

GREETINGS FOR THE DAY OF THE INTERNATIONAL

WORKING CLASS

 

Check out Reel News

Visit Radical Film Network

 

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In Defence of Ken Loach – Palestinian activist

Posted by keith1942 on April 10, 2020

In 2018 I posted defending Ken Loach from the slander of being a ‘holocaust denier’ on the ITP Blog.

The campaign against him bore all the signs of supporters of Zionism and the Israelis state. Now unfortunately we have another instance of this.

“Jewish Voice for Labour finds it deeply regrettable that the Board of Deputies of British Jews is seeking to disrupt the work of a leading anti-racism football charity by demanding the removal of an internationally respected cultural figure as a judge for its children’s design competition.

Show Racism the Red Card (Strict) is under attack by the Board for choosing campaigning film-maker Ken Loach to help judge the charity’s 2020 Schools Competition. Thousands of young people in hundreds of schools across the UK take part in the project, designed to stimulate discussion and understanding about issues around racism. Winners are invited to an awards ceremony with special guests, including current and former professional footballers.

SRtRC Chief Executive Ged Grebby announced on Tuesday Feb 4 that Loach and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen were to be this year’s judges. Grebby commended both men as valued supporters of the charity, saying they were “ideally qualified” to help choose the most inspiring and original creative designs produced by young people on anti-racist themes.

However the Board of Deputies has challenged this appointment saying that Loach “is a poor choice to judge a competition on anti-racism.” The grounds for this extraordinary allegation against an anti-racist with Loach’s record have not been made public. We note however that the flurry of on line abuse targeting Loach and Show Racism the Red Card since the Board’s intervention, has consisted mainly of unfounded (and potentially libellous) allegations of anti-semitism or Holocaust denial. A scurrilous report in the Jewish Chronicle suggested that Michael Rosen too is an unsuitable competition judge, because he has rejected charges of anti-semitism against Jeremy Corbyn.”

In fact a statement by the Board of deputies did specifically mention ‘holocaust denial’; a hoary old charge that was featured in the pages of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. The dubious nature of this attack was revealed when the same newspaper refused to print Loach’s response. Unfortunately that newspaper, along with nearly all the other mainstream press, television and radio, treat fraudulent claims against supporters of the Palestinian Struggle completely uncritically. If you want some critical reporting than I commend The Jewish Voice for Labour Web pages, Al Jazeera, R.T. and Media North.

Ken Loach, apart from his politics, has also frequently treated football in his films. There is the now famous football sequence in Kes (1969) More recently his film Looking for Eric (2009) presented football as sport and as culture rather than a capitalist commodity. Presumable this is what made him such a suitable figure for the Show Racism the Red Card competition.

Unfortunately, whilst SRtRC initially defended Loach they subsequently caved in to this pressure: It needs noting that Ken Loach has agreed with their response and resigned from the role of judge in the competition. This seems in part because of the level of abuse to which he and his family have been subjected. However, cynic that I am, I strongly suspect that if SRtRC had maintained a strong defence in this case Loach would have also resisted. Ken Loach has been a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause and of the Boycott and Divestment Campaign. It seems likely that the latter role is what has occasioned this fraudulent attack.

Ken Loach is in good company. So many supporter of the Palestinian Struggle have been on the receiving end of such invective and the abuse of language in the claims of anti-semitism. Two of my own posts, one regarding the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir (2008) and the earlier defence of Ken Loach earned me the sobriquet of an anti-semitism. Predictably this was repeated when I posted again in his defence.

One of the weapons used by these revilers is the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. Many people have already critically deconstructed this on line. Whatever the motivation of some people involved in the definition it is objectively a manoeuvre to subvert the Palestinian struggle and follows on the growing success of the Boycott and Divestment Campaign.

People will presumably have seen the critical examination of the Zionist lobby and its tactics in the USA. It would appear that a parallel movement is increasingly active in Britain. What is disturbing is the uncritical way that the British mainstream media treats this vilification along with uncritical acceptance by some public bodies. And, unfortunately, many organisations try to appease these campaigners rather than actively resisting them. The response of the Labour Party, which has been in the centre of this campaign, has been pathetic. The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign’s head office has been eloquently silent on the issue; fortunately individual branches have been politically vocal. It seems that SRtRC has now followed the appeasement example.

I have now stop using the term anti-semitic. Semitic is actually the linguistic definition of a group of languages coined in the C18th; its coiners also came up with a classification of racial groups, a dubious exercise. Edward Said includes the term in his seminal discussion of ‘Orientalism’. Whilst Hebrew is a semitic language so is Arabic; the various semitic languages are spoken by over 300 million people. It seems adding ‘anti’ occurred in the late C19th, specifically referring to prejudice against Jews. The dubious nature of this is that the term was also quickly used by European racist groups. Logically to attack Palestinian is anti-semitic. But no-one ever seems consider that. The misuse of the term is also ironic; Jews were included in the attacks on Semitic linguists along with the Arabs who they now treat in like manner

Wikipedia has a page on anti-semitism which notes:

“From the outset the term “anti-Semitism” bore special racial connotations and meant specifically prejudice against Jews. The term is confusing, for in modern usage ‘Semitic’ designates a language group, not a race. In this sense, the term is a misnomer, since there are many speakers of Semitic languages (e.g. Arabs, Ethiopians, and Assyrians) who are not the objects of anti-semitic prejudices, while there are many Jews who do not speak Hebrew, a Semitic language. Though ‘antisemitism’ could be construed as prejudice against people who speak other Semitic languages, this is not how the term is commonly used.”

The page uses the term ‘misnomer’ arguing that therefore the common usage is not ‘a misconception’ or ‘incorrect’. This seems to me another dubious argument. This is an example of ideology in the sense used by Karl Marx; accepting the surface appearances without noting the underlying social relations. Ideology grows in the superstructure as a result of the dominant social relations. Our language is full of terms and concepts which reflect the colonial and imperialist hegemony of advanced capitalist states. Britain’s oldest colony, still operating in the six northern counties of Eire, have almost a whole dictionary of  ‘misnomers’.

The increase in the accusations of anti-semitism have been assisted by the growth of what is called ‘identity politics’. Just to give a specific example. During the recent British Election campaign supporters of Zionism were active in accusing the Labour party of anti-semitism. Alongside this, though not of the same volume, there were reported claims by Hindu group accusing the Labour party of racism because of support for the the people of Kashmir in their resistance to the revoking of their autonomy and attacks on their life and culture by the Indian government.  We now have a plethora of ‘isms’ which are legitimate targets of attack. And many of the people who make such claims feel entitled to decide individually whether or not this is a case. We should probably return to considering all acts of direct prejudice against particular ethnic groups as racism, one to be identified by agreed social mores.

Attacks on Ken Loach in the media are nothing new. They commenced back in 1966 when he, together with his colleague and mentor Tony Garnett, produced and delivered the now classic Cathy Come Home (1966). It continued over a number of programmes and films scripted by the late Jim Allen and directed by Loach. A particular germane example was the play Perdition by Allen and Loach which was forced from the stage of the Royal Court in 1987. And it has continued with the script writing work of Paul Laverty for Loach’s films. An example of this can be found on the post on The Wind that Shakes the Barley [‘shakes the critics’].

The early television work of Loach, Allen and Garnett dramatised the class snuggle in Britain; a Britain that still occupies lands belonging to other peoples. In the 1980s all three found that they could no longer work on British television because of the official and unofficial censorship. The axe fell on Loach fine and poetic film supporting the miner’s strike, Which Side Are You On (1985). Something that also fell on the Derry Film and Video Workshop whose Mother Ireland was banned from Channel 4 . And the same fate befell the black workshop Ceddo’s The People’s Account (1985). The more recent films for cinema by Ken Loach, which have not only addressed the struggle in Britain, but the struggles elsewhere in Ireland and in the United States [Bread and Roses, 2000] and in Central America [Carla’s Song, 1996 ], have been honoured by Europeans but often slated in Britain.

It is worth noting a limitation on Ken Loach’s work for cinema and for television. Predominately his work has addressed the exploitation of the British working class, and, on occasion, also addressed the oppression that accompanies this; for example of women, as in Cathy Come Home and more recently Ladybird Ladybird (1994).

Certain films have addressed the struggle beyond these shores. Three films [Hidden Agenda (1990), The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Jimmy’s Hall (2014)) have addressed the occupation by the British state of either the whole or  [more recently] part of Eire. It is a sad reflection that Loach is among a small minority of class-conscious Britain’s who recognise and fight this colonial occupation. Karl Marx’s dictum is relevant here as is that of Vladimir Lenin, both making the point that:

“Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot.” {‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’].

Loach also addressed US imperialism, specifically against the people of Nicaragua in Carla’s Song.

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

But I do not think he has made a film addressing the Palestinian Struggle despite his support. I  think in part this is because of a certain hesitation in filming struggles outside his own experience. But is also seems to be a reflection of his politics, which are tinged with Trotsky-ism. A good example is Land and Freedom. The film fails to address an issue that even George Orwell in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ [an inspiration for the film] addressed. This was the failure of the Spanish revolutionaries to address the colonial exploitation and oppression of the Spanish State.

And there is a parallel lacunae in the otherwise excellent documentary The Spirit of ’45. Whatever the reforms bought in by the Labour Government headed b y Clement Atlee in 1945, they failed to break from the colonial and imperialist values of the State. Continuing the occupation of Eire, producing an unparalleled disaster in the Indian sub-continent through their manipulation and turning their back on the Palestinian people after the earlier machinations of the British State enabled a settler regime to steal their lands.

It is a real irony in this case that the campaign around what is falsely called anti-semitism relies mainly on rhetoric, misquotations and unsubstantiated allegations. But Ken Loach films, with Allen, Garnett and Laverty, have all been carefully researched and rely on a proper and detailed understanding of the actual social relations and conditions in Britain today and over the recent decades. So we have a dominant media where the real world is constantly misrepresented by officials purveyors of news; whilst what are fictional representations of our world are much closer to reality and the underlying social forces.

One of the aphorism of Mao Zedong was

“To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing.” (1939).

His rationale was the enemy was forced to take action by the strength of opposition. As other writers have pointed out, the recent campaigns orchestrated by Israel [see Al Al-Jazeera ‘The Lobby’] follow on from the successes of the Boycott and Divestment Movement, in which Ken Loach has played a vigorous role. However, the weakness of some responses to the Zionist campaign have only fuelled it. So it is important that all people with progressive views defend artists and activists like Ken Loach. From early dramas like The Big Flame, 1969. through excellent films like Riff-Raff’  (1991) and Jimmy’s Hall, Loach and his collaborators have celebrated people who resist and struggle.

The limitations of the work of him and his partners would seem to reflect the distinction between the struggle within the advanced capitalist states and that between such states and peoples occupied or dominated by these states. I argue elsewhere that this is a distinction that needs to be made in the use of Third Cinema. But this is not to deny the way that one struggle can and should support the other. Certainly the Zionist movement has used its power and support in a country like Britain to undermine the Palestinian struggle. This is why it is so important to defend supporters of that struggle.

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Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes / Vivir entre ciclones, 2019

Posted by keith1942 on February 2, 2020

This is a new title by Michael Chanan working with the Commodities of Empire British Academy Research Project at London University and the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos. The film was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

“In the Commodities of Empire project, we explore the networks through which particular commodities circulated both within and in the spaces between empires, with particular attention to local processes originating in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, which significantly influenced the outcome of the encounter between the world economy and regional societies.”

ICAIC is the world famous Institute, founded in the aftermath of the Revolution and responsible for a long line of political cinematic masterworks.

This is a 69 minutes documentary which focuses on the way hurricanes affect Cuba but relates this to the focus of the ‘Commodities’ project and also to the history and politics of Cuba since the 1959;s successful revolution. The documentary opens with the voices of local Cubans from Caibarién, a fishing port on the north coast of Cuba. These are followed by comments and archive materials from contemporary Cuba and from its history since the revolution.  The documentary is divided into three parts:

Part One: Hurricanes and History

Part 2: Caibarién – Rise and fall of a port

Part 3: Sustainable Futures

Over the 69 minutes the title presents a portrait of Caibarién and key people in the port. It fills in some of the changes, both economic and political, over the decades since the 1960s. And it offers a sense of the direction of Cuba in the C21st.

The archival material is well integrated into the contemporary footage which is in colour and standard wide screen. The dialogue and commentary, much of it in Spanish, is rendered in English sub-titles. The archival material includes both documentary and newsreel footage and extracts from some of the key films produced by ICAIC. As one comment noted, the film achieves a smooth and telling narrative with a fairly clear political commentary.

Hurricane map – ‘Irma’

Michael Chanan, in comments on the documentary, writes;

“We believe that this film, about ecological history and moves towards ecosocialism in Cuba, makes a timely contribution to the increasingly urgent debate about climate change both in Cuba and globally.”

Ecosocialism is a fairly varied political discourse. In this work we see and hear how Cuba is coping with the economic problems that follow on from the continuing US boycott and the loss of of sometime patron, the USSR. Depending on your stance the degree to which Cuba can be considered a socialist society will vary. And I suspect this will also apply to the political and economic direction presented in this analysis.

What is clear is that, despite,the setbacks and adverse situations experienced by Cuba, the Island continues to defend the positive aspects of the revolution and resist the neo-colonial polices of the USA.

Michael Chanan has along career in supporting an publicising progressive politics and in particular progressive cinema across Latin America and in particular in Cuba. There are a number of fine Cuban films that I have enjoyed thanks to his efforts. And this new documentary continues that important work and is definitely worth viewing at least once. There are some rare screenings which can be checked on the web page: livingbetweenhurricanes.org

And the page also offers the opportunity of viewing this work on line. If you are not able to find a screening you can attend, which would seem to also include talks by people involved in the film; then definitely spend 70 minutes watching it on line.

The documentary is also been publicised on the Radical Film Network.

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Cinemalibero. FESPACO 1969 – 2019

Posted by keith1942 on November 28, 2019

Film-makers at the grave of Thomas Sankara

The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO) is a film festival in Burkina Faso, held biennially in Ouagadougou, and dedicated to African and African film-makers. It was founded in 1969 . Then the host state was known as Upper Volta. The state became Burkina Faso under the leadership of Thomas Sankara, a revolutionary anti-colonial figure. In an early speech Sankara drew on the traditions of the US War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Great October Revolution. His socialist style programme was bought to a halt in a military coup in 1987: clearly involving intrigues by foreign states, in an area where French neo-colonialism is potent. The Festival has continued and remains the most important forum for African Cinema. In the same year an association of African filmmakers was formed, The Pan African Federation of Filmmakers / Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes. Several of the film-makers featured this year were important in this development, including Med Hondo and Gaston Kaboré, who later became Secretary-General. And there was Ousmane Sembène who is the best-known of these film-makers and who features have been fairly widely available.

Il Cinema Ritrovato has developed a productive relationship with the World Film Foundation, dedicated to the restoration of important films across world cinema. Their new project aims at restoring fifty African films that are considered important as films, as cultural products and historical artifacts. The programme in Bologna this year presented eleven films, eight in new restorations, as examples from the African Film heritage.

I have already posted on one of the titles: Arabs and Niggers, Your Neighbours / Les Bicots-Negres, vos voisins (1974). This was one of the films screened in its original 35mm format. And it provided a tribute to the film work of Med Hondo, who died early this year. The film provided a link between the other films shown in a Ritrovato retrospective in 2017.

Among the titles were a number seen here in the 1980s but not seen since. From 1975 in Cameroon came Muna Moto directed by Jean-Pierre Dikongué-Pipa. This was  a critical study of the dowry system, but which was constrained by the censorship operating at that time. Dikongue-Pipa felt that he was able to present

“only one fifth of what he felt in his heart.”

In the film a young woman, because she is pregnant, has to marry an older man who already has there wives, all sterile. The drama develops when the young man who fathered the child takes drastic steps.

‘Muna Moto’

Problems also attended the restoration as there was mould on some sections of the original negative and Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique had to work in part with a dupe print. The film, in black and white, used indigenous Duala and French with English sub-titles

Baara from Mali (1978) was directed Souleymane Cissé. His subsequent feature Yeelen (1987) has become a classic of African films seen in Europe.  Cissé had suffered arrest and jail for his previous film which addressed the question of rape; the charge was for accepting French funding; something the ruling class in this state have done right up until today. Set in Bamako this film is a study of trade unionism in a country struggling to escape neo-colonialism. There are two key character, of similar ages; one an intellectual the other a manual worker. Both work at a factory where the exploitation leads to confrontation and the need for people to identify their interests, individual and collective.

“The various elements operating in the film are unified by the narrative strategy employed – specifically related to the Marxist notion of history as essentially collective.”

The film screened from a colour 35mm print and used indigenous Bambara language. This was a version with Italian sub-titles and an English translation.

Wend Kuuni was from Burkina Faso itself and made in 1982 by Gaston Kaboré. A young boy is abandoned in the bush. Found, he adopted into a village family. The simple drama develops as we learn the trauma that made him mute and the further action that leads to a cure.

Kaboré, in 2017, explained that

“My preoccupation has been to find a film-making form to address my own people enshrined in both cinematic language and the legacy of our own story-telling tradition.”

This offers as sense of the form of the ‘griot’, a traditional story-teller whose function can be seen at work in a number of African films. The dialogue was in the local language of Mooré with English subtitles.

‘Wend Kuuni’

This was another restoration by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. The digital version looked really good. We also had an introduction by Nicola Mazzanti from the Cinémathèque which was less happy. His intentions seemed good but the delivery was rather like a harangue on the neglect of African films. Given that the audience were cineastes who had traveled distances for the festival and for this particular screening, then queued up to get a seat, [some had to stand] this seemed to me completely misdirected.

There were two films by the Senegalese film-maker Djibril Diop Mambéty. His two most famous films, Touki Bouki (1973) and Hyènes (1992) were both features. The two titles were intended to be part a trilogy, Histories de petites gens / Tales of ordinary people, but Mambéty died before he could complete the third part.

Le Franc [which refers to a lottery ticket] runs for 45 minutes. The protagonist, Marigo (Dieye ma) is an itinerant musician.

“With his easy-going walk and Chaplinesque clothes, Marigo immediately expresses his irreverent nature: …” (Alessaandre Speciale, quoted in the Festival Catalogue).

Indeed Marigo does share some characteristics with the famous ‘silent’ tramp. And the film  has its  moments of humour. But it also shares Mambety’s taste for sardonic comment, bricolage and a narrative that literally jumps around characters and settings. Marigo shares Chaplin’s famous characters ability to stare down adversity. But such adversities are more dramatic and oppressive in a neo-colonial setting. This is a landscape in which poverty and decay surround everybody. Yet the characters are vital as is the music which repeatedly disrupts the action.

We had a good transfer to digital with the Wolof dialogue accompanied by English sub-titles. However, the songs were not translated and I am sure they added to the dynamic but bitter story.

‘Le Franc’

La Petite vendeuse de Soleil / The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun. The ‘sun’ of the title is a daily newspaper which children tout round the streets of [I think] Dakar but it clearly has a double meaning [at least] in the story.. Sili (Lissa Baléra) is a paraplegic. Despite this and her crutches she gamely works round the streets selling what seems to be a popular tabloid. She also gamely ignores the taunts and tricks of the other sellers, all teenage boys. This is a film about facing adversity but with a more upbeat and less sardonic tone than Le Franc.

Mambéty, who died in 1998, was unable to finish the film which was at that point ready for editing. It was completed by colleagues after his death. It is an affecting drama with an emotional punch. It is also more in a linear fashion that Mambety’s other films and there is little sense of the irony that he usually offers. I did wonder if the final film is exactly as he himself would have made it. Like the other title it was in a good quality DCP, running 45 minutes and again in Wolof with English sub-titles.

There were several other features and  material on FESPACO. Notably, nearly all the films came from North and West Africa. The exceptions were the Hondo and a title from Morocco. A number were in French though we also had titles in indigenous languages like that by Cissé and by Mambéty. This is an area once termed ‘Francophone’ because  France was the dominant colonial power. This offers an interesting cultural factor, since narrative films are more common from this area than other parts which were dominated by Britain and the English language. France has continued to exercise a neo-colonial dominance in the region including military adventures. The flip side being the cultural plank and many films had to rely on French technical resources in their production. One of the key aims of FESPACO was to develop the indigenous film industries. This lead to a flowering in the late 1970s and 1980s, witnessed by some of the films at the festival. This fell away in the 1990s but there have been some important cinematic ventures in recent years; [see posts under ‘African Cinema’].

We can look forward to more of the restorations by the World Film Foundation at future festivals.

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Arabs and Niggers, Your Neighbours / Les Bicots-Négres, Vos Voisins (Mauritania-France, 1974)

Posted by keith1942 on October 1, 2019

This film was part of the ‘Cinema Libro FESPACO 1969-2019‘ programme at Il Cinema Ritrovato. The Festival has developed a strong relationship with the World Film Foundation who are leading the African Film Heritage Project which is committed to restoring 50 African films significant in cinema and culture. This series celebrates the Pan African  Film and Television Festival at Ouagadougou which was set up in 1969. That festival has become the centre for both enjoying African film and supporting and developing African Cinema.

This title was directed by Med Hondo and provided a testament to this important film-maker who died on 2nd March this year. We had enjoyed a trio of Hondo’s films at the 2017 Ritrovato. Fortunately he attended and we were able to hear him  talk about his film work. Med Hondo was born in Mauritania in 1936. He migrated to France in 1959 and the exploitation and oppression of migrants was a central theme in his films. He was well versed in International Cinema and his own work was both unconventional and used avant-garde techniques but in the service of accessible films which were ‘made politically’.

Les Bicots-Négres, Vos Voisins was his second film following on from Soleil O (1967). Aboubakar Sanogo in the Festival Catalogue described the film’s structure:

“[It] analyses the living conditions of African migrant workers in France in the m id-1970s . . . It comprises seven sequences exploring, respectively the conditions of possibility of cinematic representations in Africa …historical dissonance through the dialectic of past and present . . . a flashback to the eve of African independence , the predicaments of the post-colony, an assessment of the living conditions of migrant workers and the actions taken to transform these conditions . . .”

The film opens with a bravura sequence where an African man addresses the audience direct to camera. In a sardonic manner familiar in Hondo’s films he questions the viewer on cinema, Africa and representation. The camera tracks between close-ups, mid-shots and long shots to also reveal the walls covered with film posters. In other sequences he uses a montage of stills, prints and  pictures to show Africa in this way. Dramatised sequences point the experiences of African migrants whilst others point how European capitalism retains its hold, in this case on a ‘Francophone’ Africa. And documentary film reveals the actual conditions and the actual actions as Africans  become part of the French proletariat. Towards the close of the film footage of a vast worker’s demonstration, with black and white proletarians side by side, voices the opposition to exploitation and racism.

Hondo and his team used both visual and aural montage as developed by the Soviet pioneers. The cinematography was by Jean Boffety and François Catonné working to a script developed by Hondo. The editing, involving a sequence of stop-motion, was by Michel Masnier. And the music, with a varied combination of African rhythms and French popular songs, was by a team of Catherine Le Forestier, Mohamed Ou Mustapha, Frank Valmont and Louis Zavier.

The screening  used a version of the film from 1988. In an approach shared by other in Third Cinema, Hondo screened parts of the film  to the workers who appear in it and made changes in accordance with their suggestions. So in the opening sequence we actually see in the background a poster for the release of the first version of the film in 1974. Hondo described it as ‘a work in  progress’.

The complete film is challenging but the presentation is quite clear. Med Hondo has a clear grasp of the operation of capital in advanced European states and of the way that Neo-colonialism operated in the late C20th. The tone varies from sardonic to dramatic to informative to the powerfully moving. The film was shot in colour and we enjoyed a 35mm print from the Audio-visual Archive of the French Communist Party.

Med Hondo

The film  develops the content and style of the earlier Soleil O and also connects with the later works of the film-maker. The screening provided a memorial to a fine director. I was saddened by the thought that I would no longer be able to wait for another  film from Hondo; who had been trying (it seems vainly) to develop a further cinematic  project. However, I am heartened that his unique films will be available still for audiences. A friend in New York recently saw two of these at an impressive retrospective of Liberation Cinema.

NB – originally posted on ‘The Case for Global Film’.

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Displacement

Posted by keith1942 on July 4, 2019

Synonyms for displacement – deracination- move / movement – rearrangement – shift – supplanting

In this case, as indicated in the notice from Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019, the movement was occasioned by the screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s new version of ‘Apocalypse Now – The Final Cut’ (USA 2019). The screening in a digital format was programmed for the Piazza Maggiore, a square that can accommodate several thousand people. To this was added the ‘pop-up’ screening which added 600 places. And then to this the space at the Cinema Jolly, a further 360 seats.
The term ‘supplanting’ best describes the latter as it replaced a screening of Youssef Chahine’s Seråa fi al-wadi / Struggle in the Valley (Egypt 1954). For many cineastes at the Festival there was justified frustration though the organisers presumably thought, as this was the second screening of the Chahine title, that it was a minor disruption. At the level of values and interests this change was symptomatic of Coppola”s famous film; a work that superficially addresses a neo-colonial war but resolutely upholds the values of the dominant state. So a better term might be ‘deracination / uprooting’ which is exactly how the European and North American neo-colonial states treat the oppressed peoples and nations.
In an article in ‘MOVIE’ Andrew Britton discussed the many Vietnam films. His basic argument was that most so-called anti-war films do not address the actual politics of actual wars. Of the Coppola film in its original release version he commented:

“There is no more characteristic feature of the ‘seventies Hollywood cinema than the invitation to purchase the bankruptcy of American [i.e. USA] capitalism as the ultimate spectacle: the end of the world realised as an exchange-value.” (‘Sideshows: Hollywood in Vietnam’, Issues 27 and 28).

Apocalypse Now would seem to fit exactly the description by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino in the Manifesto, ‘Towards a Third Cinema’.

“The cinema as a spectacle aimed at a digesting object is the highest point that can be reached by bourgeois film-making. The world, experience, and the historic process are enclosed within the frame of a painting, the stage of a theatre, and the movie screen; man is viewed as a consumer of ideology, and not as the creator of ideology.”

Of course, it is a masterful spectacle but empty of genuine political opposition for all that.
I do not think that the ‘Redux’ version, whilst adding filmic material, added to the political content of the film. I have yet to see ‘Final Cut’, which is actually slighter shorter than ‘Redux’, but I doubt that this will do that either.
All versions owe something to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. Whilst criticism, as that by Chinua Achebe, are valid the novella does more than merely reproduce Africa as spectacle. Unfortunately there is not a good filmic rendition of this work. It certainly deserves more than to be seen as the property for this Hollywood extravaganza. With reference to Vietnam a good antidote would be the Cuban film 79 Springs / 79 primaveras (1969), directed by Santiago Alvarez. This would have made a good screening at the Ritrovato. Meanwhile the Chahine film is one of the titles in the Ritrovato programme that has been transferred to a digital format, so that at least suggests that it will now be more accessible than in the past.

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‘Outsiders: The Battle of Algiers and political cinema’

Posted by keith1942 on March 30, 2019

 

I was reminded of the above article in Sight & Sound by Michael Chanan as I was checking through some old recordings. One was a Radio 3 ‘Night Waves’ about ‘Marxism and Cinema’; part of a series over a week debating Marxism in October 1999. A trio of speakers, Ian Christie, Ginette Vincendeau and Michael Chanan, discussed aspects of:

“Karl Marx and the Cinema;’ … discussing his influence on the critiques of film, the way the industry is organised but above all what the films have said, especially in Russia, France and Cuba.” [All three areas of expertise amongst the speakers}.

Industry was not really touched on so the discussion focused on films that might be ‘Marxist’ and writings by ‘Marxists on films’. Talking about contemporary film [in 1999] Ian Christie praised Land and Freedom; the film directed by Ken Loach in 1995 set in the Spanish Civil War, and in particular the scene where the Republican soldiers and village peasants debate collectivising the land. Michael Chanan also referred to the film and some expanded comments [addressing the film The Battle of Algiers] re-appeared in his article in Sight & Sound [as in the title]..

“It is common nowadays, especially in the kind of university courses that try to survey the whole of world cinema in a term, to cite The Battle of Algiers as an example of ‘third cinema’, which one educational website describes as “the oppositional cinemas of the colonised peoples.” [he adds] In that case, however, Pontecorvo’s film wouldn’t count, since all the key creative talent behind the camera was Italian, making it not a ‘third world’ film’ but a European film about the third world.” [As so often one contributor, Yacef Saadi the original writer, has been forgotten].

The ‘educational website’ appears to be a reference to our sister Website, ‘Third Cinema Revisited’. I assume Michael Chanan was unaware that the site did not relate to a university course, though it was developed in a University funded production course, and the material on it was composed for study over a whole year not just one term.

Michael Chanan was arguing the point, made by many, that the Manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ covers a wide range of cinemas and films, including works from within the imperialist countries. My criticisms of this is elsewhere on this Blog, simply put, even if this Manifesto does make such a distinction, I argue that a Marxist position needs to do distinguish between the struggle between classes in an advanced capitalist state and a struggle against occupation and domination by an oppressed people and nation.

Michael Chanan actually offers exemplar films to demonstrate his particular point. This is where he returns to his example regarding Land and Freedom.

“This dialectic between film and the time and place of its viewing functions in many different ways. When Land and Freedom was first shown in Havana it produced an unexpected effect. You might think it would be the perfect film for such a highly politicised audience, but this was 1996 when Cuba was struggling to reverse the economic disintegration that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union on which it had become financially dependent. Came that brave long central sequence of discussion about politics, and in Havana some of the audience began to leave : what turned them off was what Cubans call teque, mere political rhetoric. But when David tears up his Communist Party card, another remarkable response, half the remaining audience burst into applause, which of course provoked jeers and catcalls from the other half.”

A the time of the article my response was a letter to Sight & Sound.

“I found Michael Chanan’s article on this classic film stimulating, though I had reservations about parts of his argument. His use of ‘creative talent behind the camera’ is rather narrow, as it apparently excludes the writer and co-producer Yacef Saadi. Even so I would accept that the film is not strictly a Third Cinema film. Whether Third Cinema is ‘the oppositional cinema of the colonised’ depends on your reading of the manifesto by Fernando Solanas and Olivia Getino. Chanan’s quotations to the contrary are only one aspect: the authors refer constantly to ‘films of decolonisation.’ The manifesto is strongly influenced by the writings of Franz Fanon and Mao Zedong. Both clearly draw a line between the struggles of oppressed people against colonialism and neo-colonialism on one hand, and the struggle of the working classes against their own bourgeoisie in the colonising countries on the other.

In fact, one of Chanan’s film examples demonstrates this point. The first sequence from Land and Freedom to which Chanan refers is the debate about collectivising the land, a step towards socialist construction. And this debate takes place as the indigenous working class fight their rulers in a state that is both capitalist and part of the colonial system of exploitation. The Cuban audience that Chanan describes watching this film is part of a society where socialist construction is not taking place. The Cubans are conducting a national struggle for independence from the colonial and neo-colonial policies of the USA and its allies.”

The article is missing one point made on the radio. The applause by some of the audience when David tears up his party card occasions others who

“responded by having an ideological battle in front of the screen.”

This makes clearer the political nature of the confrontation .It also is an example of an important point in ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, a point Chanan discusses in one of his longer article from a Screen Special Latin American Issue [Volume 38 number 4 Winter 1997] ‘The Changing Geography of Third Cinema’.

When La hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) was screened in Argentina there were breaks in the projection when the audience debated points on screen and the film was so structured. Solanas and Getino in the Manifesto dwell at length on this as an important facet of ‘oppositional cinema’. This seems to be an aspect of the Havana screening.

The article does make the point that the screening was a particular time [1996] and place [Havana]. But there is more to be said here. The Soviet crisis certainly impacted on Cuba. But in this context it needs to be stated that Marxism in the country was only one factor, and that the prime mover in the first decades was independence and autonomy. Whilst the state set up programmes of social improvement, like the literacy or medical campaigns; such campaigns are a common action in liberation struggles. Cuba did not attempt the transformational of production and social relations within production; an essential component of socialist transformation. It is also clear that class stratification continued in Cuba. The factions in the cinema probably represented both aspects. In the radio broadcast Chanan added the comments that,

“as in Cuba Marxism has begun to atrophy”.

Chanan’s sense of the ‘Marxism’ found in Cuba is illustrated by his comments in the BBC programme where he pointed to the influence of two important Latin American revolutionaries. One was José Martí, the hero of the C19th struggle for independence from Spain and the founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. He remains a key part of Cuban culture and political discourse. The other was José Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the Communist Party of Peru. He is is immensely influential across the radical Latin American discourse. He emphasised the necessity in the struggle of liberating peoples from foreign colonial domination. Chanan remarks that there are parallels between his writings and those of Franz Fanon. Such distinctive influences can been seen in the radical cinema which opted for a different approach from ‘Soviet Socialist Realism’.

However such radical positions were found among cultural groups and factions but these were distinct from the official Communist Party. The official Communist Party was formed by a union of the Socialist Party, the July Movement that led the liberation struggle and a revolutionary student movement. It is debatable to what degree its Marxism followed the original discourse set up by Marx and Engels; or indeed the variant developed by the Bolsheviks under Lenin. Cuba was dominated, not just economically, but in terms of political line by the contemporary Soviet Union, which was both reformist and revisionist. This party was part of the State machine but did not really have a substantial popular base. The last is reflected in the divisions in the Havana cinema.

On the use of the term ‘atrophy’ – others use ‘crisis’; a comrade remarked tellingly that

“There was no crisis of Marxism but a crisis of Marxists.”

Chanan does develop more on the question of ‘time and place’, recounting the different responses to the film Missing (USA 1982)and screenings in Bogotá, Columbia and in London. In the former the flm was applauded, in the latter there was suspicion of the film among Chanan’s acquaintances; [a view shared by Chilean exiles I knew at that time]. One could offer another example, Cry Freedom (1987). But in both examples the liberation movement was led by reformist organisations. That ordinary people were elated to see their struggles on screen does not validate the politics in which the representations were encased. The categories of cinema in the Manifesto are constituted not just in films or in industrial practices but in a hegemony that affects practitioners and audiences.

Missing (USA 1982)seems to be an example, along with The Battle of Algiers, of an approach to film that Chanan values.

“As a general rule you can’t give a cogent account of a political film without relating it to the politics that inform it, but a good a good political film is usually one that articulates its politics within the narrative, as part of the diegesis.”

Diegesis refers to the ‘world of the story’. But I think this concept needs to be interrogated by the relationship between form and content; both clearly interact with each other. Missing is both in terms of its politics and in its form and style a mainstream film. The Battle of Algiers, whilst the politics are mainly in the diegesis, clearly is unconventional in both form and content. It is an early example of the combination of documentary and fiction modes; something that was seen as problematic at its release. And the diegetic world of the film is not straightforward. So we have on-screen titles, voice-overs, FLN statements and musical counterpoint: the latter seems to me to follow the mantras in Eisenstein’s now famous manifesto on sound and not be part of the diegesis. And such complex use of different conceptions can be seen in the films of Ousmane Sembène, – Black Girl / La noire de… (1966) – or Jorge Sanjinés and Ukamau – The Secret Nation / La nación clandestina (1989).

There is a further point made by Chanan with reference to Sanjinés in his article in Screen;

“It is necessary to allow for the kind of film – the outstanding example is the work of Sanjinés – which in stylistic terms retains all the marks of individual authorship, but in the process of of its creation incorporates the values of the collectivity within which it is made.”

This comment might be true of the first feature, Blood of the Condor / Yawar Mallku (1969) credited to Sanjinés and Grupa Ukamau, but it does not fit with the comments in ‘Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema’ or to a later film such as El enemigo principal / The Principal Enemy (1974) where the form and content was chosen by the indigenous people whose history the film recounts.

An important point in the Sight & Sound article follows from Chanan’s sense of the ‘three cinemas’ defined by Solanas and Getino.

“First cinema is industrial cinema, whether it comes from Hollywood, Bollywood or Hong Kong. Second cinema is the ‘artistic; type of film characteristic of European production modes that value the director as an auteur; again this kind of cinema is found across the globe. Solanas and Getino characterised it as individualistic, bourgeois, full of psychological and social leanings – but politically reformist. Third cinema was the militant film of opposition, for which one of the models was their own 1968 documentary epic La hora de los hornos / The Hour of the Furnaces – once described neatly as a film made “in the interstices of the system and against the system … independent in production, militant in politics, and experimental in language.”

There is certainly a bias in the Manifesto for this kind of interpretation, allowing for different language and examples more akin to the 1990s than the 1960s. One criticisms of this type of definition is that it is too neat and many films do not fit in the categories. Not all industrial cinema is similar to Hollywood; Eire for one, note the urban dramas like the newly released Rosie. Many independent films, especially from distinct national cinemas, are not like the artistic type of European film and are nor easily defined as auteur projects. Whilst the third category includes independent films, many of these are certainly bourgeois and reformist.

In relation to The Battle of Algiers Chanan quotes Mike Wayne’s argument that the film straddles all three categories.

“combining the elements of the thriller (first cinema), the aesthetics of the director as author (second cinemas), and the perspectives of the liberation struggle.”

The idea of the thriller relates to genre; a problematic conflating of industry with a different type of category. It should be clear that there are many thrillers that are radically different from the Hollywood model. The European films of Costa-Gavros, [who directed Missing], are examples that are different, including from Missing..

I should add that he also discusses contradistinctions involving concepts of ‘auteur’ and ‘national cinemas’; yet here years on he maintains the idea of third cinema embracing work in both advanced capitalist countries involved in colonialism and work from countries under colonial or neo-colonial domination. He also here uses the term ‘post-colonial’, one I regard an an anachronism when colonies still exist.

Regarding the role of the author, it is true that the dictator is Gillo Pontecorvo and there are parallels with his other films. But equally Yacef Saadi can be considered also as an author; the film is adapted from his own book and he was closely involved in the production. And the latter connects with a different definition, that the film expresses a national quality. The film does certainly relate to the third category. For me this film straddles second cinema [not just auteurs but also national cinemas] and third cinema.

I have enormous respect for Michael Chanan and I always approach his work with interest; for years he has been one of the most important advocates for third cinema and been actively involved in this. But as a Marxist I think the important distinctions regarding class struggle in its different forms an manifestations must be applied to cinema as to all other discourses.

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The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany, Mexico 2018

Posted by keith1942 on December 1, 2018

This new release was screened in the Leeds International Film Festival and was also the first title in the 2018 Leeds Palestine Film Festival which runs on until December 11th. The film was a fine production to grace the Official Selection programme in the Leeds Festival and a strong opening film story for the Palestinian Festival. The Festival catalogue describes the film as

“Both a nail-biting thriller and a heart-breaking love story.”

This is a film that combines genres, an ‘infidelity’ film, a thriller and, at times, I felt it had tropes found in spy films. The main story concerns an adulterous affair between an Israeli woman, Sarah (Sivan Kerchner) and a Palestinian man, Saleem (Adeeb Safadi). This is treated as tragedy, rather like the film versions of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’. The thriller element is far from that of Fatal Attraction (1987) and there is no satire, unlike The Graduate (1967).

Whilst the film concentrates on the personal relationships, the situation, the occupation of Palestinian lands, structures the whole narrative. But the conflict between two peoples is amplified here by differences of class. Sarah is married to a high-ranking Israeli Officer, David (Ishai Golan) in the Israeli army security service. She is attempting to run her own business, a café, but this attempt has been made intermittent by David’s work leading to moves. She has a young child. Saleem works as a delivery driver for a Israeli bakery and is married to Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who is pregnant. Sarah and David live in West Jerusalem, Salem and Bisan live in East Jerusalem.

In addition to his work as a delivery driver Saleem is persuaded by his brother-in-law, [not a sympathetic character] to use the van for an unofficial delivery service in the West Bank after work: This includes Bethlehem and beyond the ‘apartheid wall’ constructed by Israel.

There are nuances here resulting from the occupation. Israeli licence plates are clearly distinguishable from those issued by the Palestinian Authority. It appears that Arab citizens of Israel, including Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, have the same type of plates as other Israeli citizens. The van Saleem drives has Israeli plates and at checkpoint he passes with ease whilst queues of cars with Palestinian plates are visible in the background. There are further nuances as the film features both the Israeli police and Israeli Security Service and the Palestinian Police and the Palestinian Security Service.

These all enter the narrative at various points after Saleem takes Sarah with him on a delivery to Bethlehem; their usual assignation take place in a car park. An argument in a café and the obvious presence of an Israeli vehicle in a Palestinian area lead to investigations. The Reports of the title are compiled by the Palestinian Security but later fall into the hands of the Israeli Security. As one investigation follows another the complexities of the situation emerge for the audience. And the feelings and values of both Sarah and Saleem are tested as are those of their partners, David and Bisan. We also see the different responses of both Israelis and Palestinians as the affair becomes known.

The film has been written and directed by two Palestinian brothers, Rami Musa and Muayad Alayan. They also produced the film through their company Key Films, with co-producers from Germany and Mexico. They have previously produced several short films and one other feature, Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Al-hob wa al-sariqa wa mashakel ukhra 2015). I have not seen this film which does not appear to have had a British release. It does though suggest generic affinities with The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, the plot involves a Palestinian who mistakenly steals an Israeli car.

The Alayan brothers also worked on the cinematography and art design for this earlier films. Here they have assembled a skill production crew. Sebastian Bock provides the cinematography which does fine work with both interiors and exteriors. He also uses a hand-held camera for certain dramatic sequences, [presumably a steadicam with a loose setting]. The interiors range though daytime and night-time lighting, with chiaroscuro in places. This also applies to the exteriors, which include narrow streets, car parks, the ‘separation wall’ and at judicious intervals long shots of both sectors of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and briefly the empty desert landscape of the South. Whilst these settings focus on the development in the plot they also are reminders of the conflict setting which is so important to the narrative. And the editing by Sameer Qumsiyeh keeps up a a narrative pace that maintains both the drama and the developing mystery of the story.

The film works well as a drama and is absorbing and at times generates real tension. There are relatively explicit sex scenes, unusual for a Palestinian film. Added to this is the representation of key aspects of the lives of Palatinates under Israeli occupation. As is regularly noted in the media East Jerusalem is at the conflicted edge of the struggle for Palestinian independence. The Israeli control and harassment of those Palestinian living in East Jerusalem is hedged round with restrictions and constantly threatens their homes and their culture. This emerges with increasing power as the film’s narrative develops.

The title demonstrates that the Palestinians, despite lacking a proper state, have been able to develop a proper national cinema. Even the Hollywood Academy seems to have recognised that. What we are seeing now are genre films but which still address the actual political situation under occupation.

The film was shot digitally and is in 2.35:1 and colour. The dialogue is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with the first two languages translated in English sub-titles. The Festival screening was the British premiere and to date there is not a British release listed for the film which neither has a BBFC certificate. The DCP for the screening was provided by Heretic Outreach, based in Athens,

“Heretic Outreach is a boutique world sales agency that supports and encourages outstanding films and film-makers to reach out to the world, by becoming a key partner for solid strategies in festivals, sales and alternative distribution models.”

This is a new agency but their aim is to be applauded. One has only to look at the programme of major Film Festivals, for example the Berlinale, to realise that there is a large and apparently really worthwhile stream of films that are difficult or impossible to see in a theatrical formats in Britain. Still one would expect this film to feature in other Palestinian film events round Britain, of which there are now a number. Hopefully it also be picked up by a distributor for a more general release.

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