The State of Cinema

“Filmmaking is now more like writing a novel or like painting than it ever has been. And I’m surprised at how few people have risen to that challenge. Film remains a very mainstream form of expression. Most people are still interested in the basic story cliché–plus a few somewhat precious video artists who work in quite a limited way on gallery-type installations.

“Narrative films aren’t necessarily inferior, but the wider your spectrum of art, the more you realize that the story is not the only thing happening on the screen. It is maybe only a device, in the same way a great painter will paint a portrait as a device with which to articulate lots of other ideas about light, or politics, or the painter’s own philosophy. Most of the films you see don’t reflect any of that; they merely reflect the story. Or they reflect the deadening committee system of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, where not only have too many cooks spoiled the broth, they’ve turned it into a bland piece of pap.

“I’m more enthusiastic about films from the Third World, which is the large part of the planet where they’re only just starting to have access to the technology. A lot of this is not cinema in the sense of a feature film of 95 minutes. In Africa, for example, where there are limited resources, soap operas that are entirely specific to the area and language where they’re filmed are made on very basic video cameras, and then distributed through a completely alternative network as cinema. There’s an immediacy and a wonderful use of economy in these films. And they’re very good stories, human stories with the specifics of the area they’re set in. These are really vibrant forms of filmmaking.”

Excerpted from New Statesman (July 20, 2009), whose arts and culture coverage rivals its political reporting in breadth and intelligence. Winner of the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for international

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