Unlike other Arab-Asian nations, Iran stands out as having a rather rich history in cinema. Recent political scandals, further media censorship and oppressive regimes have necessitated an even stealthier cinema if one is to hope for a release in Iran. Filmmakers like Jafar Panahi are only among the most high profile cases of Iranians creating films in political exile, if not literal. The discipline of self-censorship has given these films a veneer of simplicity; moral tales agreeable to nearly all corners of the earth and a formal approach less flashy and more ascetic. Women’s heads are nearly always covered, and much pain goes into making sure the films at least give the impression of being innocuous fare that doesn’t “abandon” Islamic tradition — as the monarchies and mullahs see it, at least — and isn’t too acutely critical of their respective regimes. To the chagrin of these regimes, many of these filmmakers have flourished under this umbrella without ridding their work of their teeth.
Browsing: Third Cinema
Ousmane Sembene has to be, unequivocally, the peak figure of African cinema. His final film before perishing was Moolaadé, a work that has served as the gateway for film buffs to dabble in the films of the one continent nobody seems to have any real extensive cinematic experience in. In my experience as a film lover, I’ve noticed that African cinema is often unconsciously categorized as a fringe curiosity. If one springs up on a year end list, it’s usually made with European money and by Europeans featuring a few locals for the sake of “authenticity”. If not, it’s likely one of maybe a handful of native African films any particular individual has actually seen. This is not entirely unreasonable as African cinema is not exactly abundant in your local video store, and certainly not in US theaters outside of major festivals. Sembene almost single-handedly brought Africa to the big screen for many cinephiles around the globe. For better or worse, he is probably the face of an industry for an entire continent.
“Towards a Third Cinema” was the title of the manifesto published in 1969 in the cinema journal Tricontinental by Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. The journal was started by the OSPAAAL, or Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Solanas and Getino were members of Grupo Cine Liberación; the Argentina arm of the broader movement. This manifesto might be seen as the solidification of the OSPAAAL’s ideas into a recognizable front in the world of film.
“First Cinema”, as described by Solanas and Getino, is the Hollywood production that promotes bourgeois values via escapist entertainment that invites no real participation from the audience. “Second Cinema” was the European art film that defied Hollywood convention, but was nonetheless tied down to the auteurist movement, relegating responsibility to a single artist. “Third Cinema” would be the opposite of both of these models: a cinema born of revolutionary principles belonging to a collective conceived to spread the truth of (sometimes surreptitious) colonial oppression, the struggles of the marginalized and the need for national dialogue.
When I seek out African cinema, my criterion are as follows: it must be made by a native African, and shot at least mostly in Africa using a mostly African cast. My ideal African film is all of those, but it also would speak to and for Africans, to the extent that any one or few individuals can speak for a nation or continent or group of people. When I seek out Third Cinema, a sociopolitical film movement of sorts that culls from all third world nations a certain veracity and galvanizing revolutionary force, I’m looking for something that offers me a unique perspective on social and political upheaval and first world imperialism. I’m looking for a filmmaking style untethered to western norms and fully engaged with its audience. Oh, Sun is precisely this kind of film. Made by a native Algerian working out of neighboring Mauritania, which had only 7 years prior gained its independence from France, and France, the film is shot mostly in France, which troubles its status as Third Cinema. That said, the film’s utmost concern is with the plight of migrant workers lured to mainland France by its colonialist constituents in French West Africa with the promise and veneer of a better life.