Hollywood’s hegemony has regularly been faced by alternatives in content, style and values. In the 1960s among the most influential were films in what became known as the New Latin American Cinema.
The revolution in Cuba on the eve of the 1960s was a fulcrum for change in politics, culture and, in particular, cinema. An early act by the new Cuban leaders was the establishment of Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC, Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) in March 1959. The Institute was responsible for a series of films that challenged the western model symbolised by the Hollywood studios. The films of newsreel and documentary film-maker Santiago Alvarez offer a sense of these.
The Cuban artists had a powerful influence on radical film-maker across Latin America: in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia . . And like their forebears in Soviet Montage and Surrealism the film-makers also produced Manifestos setting out their standpoint and values; always critical of the mainstream model of cinema.
One of the most influential of these Manifestos was by Fernando Solanos and Octavio Getino, Hacia un tercer cine (Toward a Third Cinema).
They had produced an example of alternative cinema with their The Hour of the Furnaces / La hora de los hornos in 1968. This film was challenging in its use of montage, in its revolutionary rhetoric and in the actual presentation; an early screening was broken up with discussions of the content and then by the police.
The challenge was to capitalism, neo-colonialism and cinemas that treated film as commodities rather than political and artistic works. Many influences fed into the Manifesto but the key one was that of Franz Fanon and his major work, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (1961).
In his writing Fanon analysed the three stages through which an artist or an intellectual would pass to achieve a ‘fighting spirit.’
The films privileged by Third Cinema analysis were frequently influenced by Italian neorealism and the practices which emphasised content over production values. This was an approach celebrated in a Cuban Manifesto, ‘For an imperfect cinema’ by Julio García Espinosa. There was also an emphasis on giving expression to the voices of oppressed peoples, emphasised in another Manifesto by Jorge Sanjinés, ‘Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema’ (1976).
Solanos’ and Getino’s Manifesto contained contradictory elements. In some parts the emphasis was on a global front against capitalism, in others the emphasis was on the stance of National Liberation Struggles against both colonialism and neo-colonialism. These ambiguities identified provided for three categories, or types of cinema.
As noted by Solano and Getino (translated from the reprint in Cineaste by Julianne Burton), First Cinema is “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.”
The top-grossing film of 1968, 2001, offers a prime example of spectacle dominating any analysis in the film. And it is argued that mainstream cinemas outside of North America should be included in First Cinema. A poplar Hindi romantic drama Aabroo (Honour) from the same year shares the values if not the style with Hollywood films (this was before The Bombay/Mumbai film in industry was renamed ‘Bollywood’).
Second Cinema “is the so-called ‘author’s cinema,’ ‘expression cinema,’ ‘nouvelle vague,’ ‘cinema novo’. This alternative signified a step forward inasmuch as it demanded that the film-maker be free to express himself in non-standard language and inasmuch as it was an attempt at cultural decolonisation. But such attempts have already reached, or are about to reach, the outer limits of what the system permits.”
The Manifesto is directly critical of Nouvelle Vague films which relied on the mainstream commercial networks. An ambiguity here is the question of films that are, at least partly, mainstream but not by “auteurs”. 1967 saw the British film Poor Cow directed by Ken Loach and 1969 his subsequent film Kes. Both films depended to a great degree on the contributions of the scriptwriters, respectively Neil Dunn and Barry Hines; and the latter film was produced by Loach’s mentor Tony Garnett. The films are really examples of collective independent film. The films could be considered as part of a British National Cinema or of British social realism; and these might be part of second cinema?
Third Cinema meanwhile consists of “real alternatives differing from those offered by the System are only possible if one of two requirements is fulfilled: making films that the System cannot assimilate and which are foreign to its needs, or making films that directly and explicitly set out to fight the System. Neither of these requirements fits within the alternatives that are still offered by the second cinema, but they can be found in the revolutionary opening towards a cinema outside and against the System, in a cinema liberation: the third cinema.”
While ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ came out of New Latin American Cinema there were already film-makers elsewhere in the world providing the same sort of challenge to the mainstream. In Senegal the film-maker Ousmane Sembène directed Mandabi (The Money Order) a film relying on the indigenous language of Wolof and dramatising the effects of a neo-colonial society.
The categories were at their most influential in the 1980s. A conference of academics, film-makers and activists in Edinburg in 1986 debated ‘Questions of Third Cinema’ (1989). Key films from a n umber of territories were seen as giving expression to oppositional and alternative cinemas:
Since then ‘Third Cinema’ has received less attention but it remains an important discourse. In fact some people have written of a fourth cinema; that is films by indigenous peoples who do not possess a territorial state: for example Native Americans in the USA or Indian communities in the Amazonian region. Meanwhile, film-makers from among oppressed peoples have continued to produce films that are directly oppositional; both to the dominant cinema and the dominant imperialist cultures. A prime example would be Palestinian Cinema.
While the Olso Accords were extremely problematic they have led to a semi-autonomous territory under the Palestinian Authority. And there has been a bloom in Palestinian film-making. These productions include films that might be considered the work of an auteur: an example would be the work of Elia Suleiman, films that are idiosyncratic, like his most recent It Must Be Heaven (2019); his earlier The Time That Remains (2009) would seem to qualify as ‘against the system’. There are films that are part of a national cinema, like those by Hany Abu-Assad, whose work, including Omar (2013), received Academy Award nominations. And there films that are completely oppositional, offering a distinctive style and critical values, such as Five Broken Cameras
Third Cinema remains a vital and important part of modern cinema and, as should be obvious, it is by its very nature an independent cinema. Like other Indy productions it often struggles to find a place for presentation to audiences.
Keith Withall regularly writes about Third Cinema on his film discussion website, thirdcinema.wordpress.com.