National Cinema(s)

I recently finished a six week course on National Cinema(s), which was hosted by 20th Century Flicks: Bristol’s last remaining video rental shop (it also has a cinema room that can be hired and is home to two adorable cats – what more could you want from life?) The big question, going into this course, was, ‘What is National Cinema?’ and over the next six weeks my fellow classmates and I attempted to answer this through film screenings and discussions, each one organised around a particular national focus (British, Australian, Swedish, Venezuelan, Kenyan, European/Borderless).

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While the economics of a film’s production and distribution is arguably the biggest factor in determining which ‘national cinema’ it falls into, I was very much fascinated by the discussions around the filmic content and the idea of ‘national genres’, or to put it more crudely, what type of films do we associate with certain countries? For example, when asked what Swedish films we had seen, the majority of those cited, particularly those that had been the most commercially successful, could be considered to fit the description ‘Scandi-noir’. This made me wonder how much this ‘national genre’ really represents Swedish interests and how much it is influenced by its exportability to international audiences, i.e. Swedish film-makers may be more inclined to work within this genre because it is more likely to sell well abroad. This is because it seems to be much easier to market a foreign film when a nation is predominately linked with a particular style of film-making. Further examples might include French Arthouse, Japanese Anime and Indian Bollywood.

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Additionally, ‘Scandi-noir’ raises further questions regarding the geography of national cinema(s) and the grouping of films from several countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden – perhaps because this is easier to market internationally). What then might be the exported British ‘national genre’ (grouping England, Scotland and Wales)? This is difficult to judge since I am living in Britain and exposed to the wider range of its film productions but literature on this subject indicates that heritage cinema seems to enjoy particular international success: the Merchant Ivory productions of the 1980s and more recently The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper, 2010) and The Imitation Game (Dir. Morten Tyldum, 2014). The wider socio-political implications for these exported ‘national genres’ is something that really fascinates me and I hope to explore this as I take up research in this area.

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With this in mind, the National Cinema(s) course was a wonderful opportunity to watch films that we may not normally have seen due to their lower visibility in the international film market. Putting Australia’s hugely successful Mad Max franchise to one side, I watched two lesser known films: Charlie’s Country (Dir. Rolf de Heer, 2013), a depiction of an Indigenous Australian dealing with the loss of his land, and The Boys (Dir. Rowan Woods, 1998), a disturbing drama about violence, hate and crime within a suburban Australian family.

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As part of our focus on Swedish cinema the featured screening was not a ‘Scandi-noir’ but a sensitive, sweet account of two teenage girls falling in love in a small town: Show Me Love (Dir. Lukas Moodysson, 1998). This screening was quite a nostalgic experience for me, proving that questionable fashion choices, bubblegum pop and ‘hanging in the park’ are late 1990s teenage experiences that transcend national borders.

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The course also exposed me to some films from countries that I must shamefully confess I knew very little about in terms of their cinema: Pelo Malo (Dir. Mariana Rondon, 2013) explores issues of racism, homophobia and poverty through the tense relationship between a mother and her son living in Caracas, Venezuela; Nairobi Half Life (Dir. David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga, 2012) is a hard-hitting insight into gang culture in Nairobi, Kenya.

Many thanks to Peter, Tara, Lorena and Elizabeth for selecting an array of truly fascinating films and for leading such insightful discussions.

Written by Sarah Kelley for 20th Century Flicks.

Film courses in the Kino

Before running our first film course in the Kino (an idea I’d been sitting on for the better part of two years before launching), I considered the contemporary challenge of the video shop thus: if rentals are steadily decreasing year on year (oh how they are), and if the most financially viable aspect of our business in post-Clifton years is the Kino (oh how it is), what else could we use this magic Twin Peaks-inspired space for? And so, even if it was an entirely mad endeavour for a video shop, we decided to trial informal adult education classes in our 11-seater cinema. Much to my joy, folks turned up to the first one so we’ve continued doing it.

Starting somewhere in the vicinity of where it all began, we kicked off with silent cinema (my eternal hat off to Dr Peter Walsh for taking up the reigns on that one, solo). Then we ventured into documentary discourse and so began our line of questioning the legitimacy and so-called ‘truth’ of everything we see. Next came a focus on national cinema(s) – a kind of misleading theme given it’s a largely dismissed approach, contemporarily, even if it is useful for trying to understand the obfuscating aims of national funding bodies. But it brought up so many more questions about politics, history, social inequity, economics and cultural resonance / dissonance.

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From here, there were any number of places we might like to go, and though I do continue to threaten to run a feminist film course some time in the future (that’s assuming my other mad idea about running a monthly feminist salon in the shop doesn’t win out first!), we decided on a ‘Page to Screen’ focus.

Walsh and I both studied literature as well as film, even if we work more exclusively now with the latter, and especially of interest is the way in which cinema realises and reimagines literary themes, tone and narrative.

We plan to look at a number of texts over the summer and there’s plenty of time between classes (it’s fortnightly for this one) for people to read and view widely based on what’s thrown up in each of the sessions. We’re keen to find out how some filmmakers show description, or how they visualise internal narrative, assign and reassign narrative voice and how a form that is already visual, in part, begins to move before our eyes; there will be plenty to chew over in that red-curtained room, where time and space evaporate and ideas take charge.

From Page to Screen is the fourth in our new series of film courses in the Kino. Spaces are limited but if you are keen to find out more about this or future courses please do email Tara to register your interest: tarajudah[@]hotmail[dot]com

Good Friday, Chapter 2: A short, chilling story from Poppy, the video shop cat

She didn’t scream.

There was a low rumple, a muffled guffaw and a metallic squink. She backed away from the body and took solace behind the counter.

I’d started to sweat, through my paws (that’s where cats sweat, in case you didn’t know) so I went back to licking them. It kept my mind busy and that meant that I didn’t have to think about what the human would do to us now that she’d found the body. Meanwhile, she paced back and forth behind the counter, tap-tap-tapping on the small rectangular thing she carries around. She tapped furiously, as if her life depended on it. Maybe it did? All the while, I sat atop the fridge and I licked my paws.

Alf – that’s my brother – he didn’t hide, almost as if he was proud of what he’d done. He sat less than a foot away from the body, like he wanted to get caught, like his actions would somehow please the human. I was disgusted with him. Not only did I have to put up with the headless body in our home that night but it was also causing me much anxiety. The humans aren’t like us; they’re strange and unpredictable. More time passed and the suspense became too much, I had to know, what was she doing out there?

I let a low growl out and Alf hissed back – the human was still tapping on that rectangular object, pacing back and forth.

She paced back and forth. Back and forth; back and forth…

This went on for what might have been days. And you know what? I thought, ‘Forget this, I don’t care about the hideous dismembered corpse on the rug! It’s midday and I’m HUNGRY.’ My paws were salty, which left a dry, sandbox taste in my mouth. Not even a quick lick of my deliciously greasy fur could make it go away. That’s when I decided to speak up.

I knew I had to be careful about what I said and I’ve been studying the humans for a long time now. The most important detail I’ve noticed is that they communicate with their mouths. I think, especially when they want something, they open their mouths wide and release a series of noises – not clear hisses or growls, more like a sequence of up and down varied frequencies. It’s effective because the other humans respond. I see it first thing in the morning when they put the coffee on: one sets up the pot, opens its mouth wide and squeaks at the other, then, the other one squeaks back and the first one brings out a hot, disgusting cup of the stuff. I’ve also noticed that the mouth has to open wide – for example, there was a time when someone from the outside came in (many outsides come in of a day) and they didn’t open their mouth very wide at all. As such, the noises didn’t vary much and the whole thing was very lackluster, kind of like a mumble. My human seemed unimpressed with the mumble and instead of responding with a cup of hot stuff, mumbled back.

So, having deduced that I needed to speak, loudly and with varied timbre, I drew a large breath and cried out with everything I had, hoping I’d get food and not a cup of that hot stuff.

AND IT WORKED. She turned to me and replied with the same noise! She must have understood that I was just an innocent bystander. ‘Success!’, I thought, ‘Soon, soon I will get the puzzle ball with the food.’

Tune in again next week for the next installment of Pops’ story.