A Need To Be Seen

The Resolutions of the Third World Filmmakers Meeting (Algeria, 1973) reads like a naive call for a world that must exist, should exist, by those who most need it to exist, couched firmly in the language of Marxism. It consists of reports from three committees:

  • The Committee on People’s Cinema: “the role of cinema and filmmakers in the third world against imperialism and neocolonialism”
  • The Committee on Production and Coproduction: “the problems of film production and coproduction in third world countries”
  • The Committee on Distribution: “in charge of the distribution of third world films”

each shorter than the last, as if the revolutionary flame of the Committee on People’s Cinema was dimmed by questions of funding and put out entirely by the prospect of actually having to distribute their films to be seen by audiences.

The committees call for more or less a communist overthrow of neocolonialism, which is a fine set of political beliefs to hold that I don’t begrudge anyone. Certainly my own oppressors are Capitalists, although I cannot honestly call them Fascists. But the authors reveal the power they give their oppressors in their own analysis. “Language itself becomes a means of alienation, in that the colonized has a tendency to practice the language of the colonizer, while his own language, as well as his personality, his culture, and his moral values, become foreign to him.” Well said, but by self-described “Third World Filmmakers” — although there is power and revolution in subverting, reclaiming, the language of the oppressor, this seems to lack the requisite self-awareness.

And, yes, the creation of “films which bring about disalienation of the colonized peoples at the same time as they contribute sound and objective information for the people of the entire world, including the oppressed classes of the colonizing countries, and place the struggle of their people back in the general context of the countries and people of the third world” is a nice (if not overly verbose) goal. But that’s an awful lot to expect from films, let alone their audiences. As the authors later acknowledge, “conditions must be created for a greater awareness on the part of the masses for the development of their critical sense and varied participation in the cultural life of their countries.”

And, how do you ensure such an audience? The Committee on Distribution has a good idea: ask the institutions of the oppressors (for instance, UNESCO) for funding.

These resolutions are a lament for a world which does not exist. As Bazin writes of the plastic arts, “it is no longer a question of survival after death, but of a larger concept, the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny.” The resolutions are a call for representation, for the right to distribute the truths of the oppressed, even if they are framed by the language of the oppressors. Film in particular is a fitting medium; Bazin writes again that it “is no longer content to preserve the object […] Now, for the first time, the image of things is likewise the image of their duration, change mummified as it were.”

It’s beautiful, in a way. We must overthrow the oppressors. We must seize the means of cultural production. We must inspire the unwashed masses to a new state of cultural enlightenment. But the poignancy comes from the lack of an answer to capitalist power structures, other than, ask them for money. The change that the authors want to preserve in film is yet unrealized.

 

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