24 December 2013

The Nature of Tibetan Buddhist Medicine

A 2006 television documentary, ‘The Blue Buddha: Lost Secrets of Tibetan Medicine,’ introduces the Tibetan Buddhist medical tradition and the relationship between Buddhist teachings and medical knowledge, emphasizing that the founder of Buddhism considered himself as a healer, rather than as a god or a prophet, and that he presented his teachings not as doctrines but as remedies intended to heal the body and mind. These teachings form the basis of Buddhist oriented medicine today, with regional variations, and so the documentary begins by surveying its historical development in Tibet.

12 December 2013

Religion and Indian Cinema

Since the early 1990s Indian society has undergone some of the greatest changes it has seen since Independence in 1947. Several key events at the beginning of the 1990s inaugurated the processes that occurred during the decade. These years saw the rise and fall of the political parties who support Hindutva or policies of Hindu nationalism, while economic reforms brought in a new age of consumerism and liberalism that has taken root across the Indian metropolises. While other major social transformations also took place during this decade, such as the rise of lower castes, this period can be said to be one in which a new social group, 'the new middle classes,' rose to dominate India economically, politically, socially and culturally. The impact of these new groups was felt outside of India as they were part of transnational family networks and the diaspora that became increasingly important as a market for Hindi films, alongside other global audiences.

26 November 2013

The Racial Film as Expedition

In Europe, the 'racial film' accompanied what Pierre Leprohon has called 'a violent upsurge in exoticism' during the years 1920-25, a phenomenon also reflected in literature, in the triumph of Gauguin, and in jazz music (labeled in France 'la musique negre'). Probably the most famous French 'racial cruise' film was Leon Poirier's La croisiere noire (The Black Cruise; 1926), a long travelogue which followed a Citroen motorcar expedition traversing Africa from the north to as far south as Madagascar. An explicitly colonial film, La croisiere noire was a grand motorcar adventure designed to give witness to France's 'civilizing action.'

11 November 2013

Terrorist Films and National Events

The portrayal of Arabs and Arabic culture in American films changed to reflect broader sociopolitical contexts in recent U.S. history. In the early 1980s, the image of a Russian enemy served as a convenient articulation of foreign fear--a kind of xenophobia that makes for good film as well as for reinforcement of cultural boundaries. As U.S. foreign policy shifted from involvement with the Soviet Union following the end of the Cold War, the characterization of Arabs as a threat to American interests intensified. Though Hollywood movies have included anti-Arab sentiments throughout moviemaking history, the fall of the Soviet Union, corresponding roughly with the Gulf War in 1990-91, brought a rapid escalation of the demonization of Arabs in American film.

28 October 2013

Nature, Animals, Intelligence and Madness

'The city child is asked, in effect, to go directly from his symbiosis with his mother to a mastery of social relations. He is to skip the genetic interlude in this task, in which he indulges in eight or ten years in nature, and go directly to the real job of life. During this time his frustration and inarticulate desire will be anaesthetised by portrayals of the nonhuman as entertainment in an array of images--toys, pictures, zoos and gardens, decorations, Disney films, motifs, and designs--a stew of nature so arbitrarily presented that the result of his years of trying to fix it in his heart will only lead to despair. No wonder the child of thirteen turns with keen interest to machines. Man-portrayed nature has proved incoherent.'

08 October 2013

Race and Class in the Cinema of Apartheid

To write a Marxist history of an art form or a cultural process in a time designated as postmodern--or at least with the logic of postmodernism dominating cultural debates--is one of the central challenges of our time. In Europe, three responses from a Marxist perspective have been put forth as the dominance of poststructuralist theory begins to ebb. Italian architecture critic Manfredo Tafuri has argued convincingly that the essential task of today is not so much writing a history of modern art forms as writing a modern history of those forms. In his discussion of the politics of history writing, French philosopher Louis Althusser has theorised the imperative of producing a dialectical concept of the history of an art form rather than merely presenting a narrative account of its history. And in England, writing about the history of structure of the State, Perry Anderson has postulated that history writing should be theoretical and analytical as well as factual and descriptive in order to be adequately comprehensive.

24 September 2013

Healing Arts in an Ancient Indian Tradition

‘Ayurveda: Art of Being,’ a 2001 documentary film by Pan Nalin, opens with an elderly man collecting and washing plants by a riverside, begging pardon from the Lord for uprooting them, saying that they are necessary for medicine. That single scene encapsulates the main message of this film, echoing Hindu cosmology, that for Ayurveda ‘everything in and around us are one and single existence.’ Dr. G. Gangadharan of the Medicinal Plant Conservation Centre in Kerala, India, elaborates on this principle: ‘The microcosm, the body in which we are living, or that of all the living beings, and the macrocosm around us, are all part of one unit. And the role of the physician is merely the role of a conveyer belt between these two, where he may be processing something so that the body can easily assimilate it. Other than that, there is nothing. He is doing nothing other than substituting things which are lacking in the system by things which are available externally.’

09 September 2013

Trinh T. Minh-ha on Images and Politics

Trinh T. Minh-ha is a Vietnamese independent filmmaker, post-colonial theorist and feminist thinker whose work is widely shown internationally, and who has taught at various universities in the United States, and also in Japan and Senegal. Her work as an artist, teacher and writer consistently engages questions of hegemony, methodology and patriarchy. Her 1982 film 'Reassemblage,' made as part of her ethnographic research in Senegal, challenges the dichotomies of self/other, object/subject, and maker/viewer. Rather than reproducing the authoritative narrative voices and linear story lines of documentary film, for 'Reassemblage' she offered virtually no narration and employed a disorienting editing style of constantly shifting images, musical snippets and occasional silences that challenge the conventions of representation. In this essay, she uses her films as a point of departure for a discussion on the necessity of making films politically, the task of interrogating various forms of repression, and the ongoing struggle to move across and beyond boundaries so as to work, think and act differently.

22 August 2013

Media and Lebanese Identity

When we left Lebanon in the summer of 1984, our youngest son, Ramzi, was barely two years old. Even then, one was aware of his fondness, almost an inborn talent, for music and dance. Rhythmic movement, miming, even a bit of burlesque were unmistakably his favorite form of self-expression. He indulged his passions with the abandon and exuberance of a gifted child, oblivious to the havoc of deadly strife raging outside his own enchanted world. Like whistling in the dark, dance was perhaps his own beguiling respite from the scares and scars of war.

08 August 2013

Toward a Semiotics of Third Cinema

Third World filmmakers and scholars should not be forced always to think in a sign system that is not theirs. The question is whether the categories that inform Western semiotics are fully relevant to the analysis of non-Western sign systems. Western semiotics has presumed that its categories can travel across cultures and languages. But language is saturated with the values of its own culture. To think in a language other than one's own is to experience a peculiar form of alienation--a kind of self-exile. Besides, Western semiotics has not developed a strategy to explain the specific mode of transformation required by the Third World context where semiotics should be an instrument of political action. This has been largely ignored and underdeveloped. It is now imperative to formulate Third Cinema semiotics in terms of its relation between Third World concepts and its own artistic mode to develop forms of explanation that account for its specificity.

23 July 2013

Thoughts from an Autochthonous Center

For approximately five hundred years, European civilizations subjugated or destroyed peoples around the world. By the 1890s, about 85% of the land mass of the earth was either a colony or a former colony of Europe. During the long period of conquest, Europeans developed an intensive and impressive body of ideologies to explain their success as the inevitable result of the inherent superiority of the culture and at points even their biology, although the expansion actually the result of military success. The psychological and social foundation of this period of conquest and colonization is found in the ability to coerce the peoples of the world to accept the rules by which European politics and ideologies claimed the power to determine what is legitimate about the human experience.

10 July 2013

Neo-Colonialism in Mambety's 'Hyenas'

Friedrich Durenmatt's play 'The Visit,' filtered through Bernhard Wicki's 1964 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman, provided the storyline for Djibril Diop Mambety's 1992 film 'Hyenas,' although Mambety gave the story a Senegalese flavor. Introduced as a representative of the World Bank, an incredibly rich woman, Linguere Ramatou (played by Ami Diakhate), returns to Colobane, the town of her birth--and, we eventually learn, her shame. In revenge for vicious treatment by her former lover Draman Drameh (played by Mansour Diouf), who had paid two other men to say they had slept with her, she promises the village elders to bankroll her eceonomically depressed hometown if they will only do just one little thing for her: kill Drameh. Of course they refuse, with high moral statements about the sanctity of life; of course they gradually give in as they are seduced by the consumer goods 'the visitor' can produce for them.

19 June 2013

An Ethnobiographical Film by Jorge Preloran

Jorge Preloran (1933-2009) was an Argentinian-American filmmaker who developed a unique style of ethnobiographical documentary film during the 1960s. One of his most well known works in this genre is Hermogenes Cayo, the Spanish language version of which he made in 1969. A year later, Preloran collaborated with American Anthropologist Robert Gardner to produce an English language version of the film under the title Imaginero. In this film we have the sensitive and human portrayal of a folk artist living on the puna of Northwestern Argentina. The subject of the film, Hermogenes Cayo, is a self made man with a deep dedication to both folk Catholicism and the plastic arts. His creativity and ingenuity reveal a self confidence rarely found in descriptions of Andean lifeways.

06 June 2013

Kinji Fukasaku's Films of the 1960s and 1970s

Kinji Fukasaku joined the Toei Film Distribution Company in 1953, at the age of 23. During the 1950s, Japanese cinema enjoyed a tremendous growth, and by the latter half of the decade it revelled in a new golden age commensurate with that of the 1930s. The most important directors of the era can be divided into three groups: the pre-war masters Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Tomu Uchida; the young Turks Akira Kurosawa and Keisuke Kinoshita who emerged soon after the war; and a new generation, working in a wide variety of genres, including Yasuzo Masumura, Tai Kato, Kenji Misumi, Ko Nakahira, Tadashi Sawashima, Seijun Suzuki, Kihachi Okamoto, and Shohei Imamura. By the late 1950s, the Japanese film industry was dominated by six studios: Toho, Shochiku, Daiei, Toei, Shintoho, and Nikkatsu, and new talent seemed to burst out of every studio. Nagisa Oshima had made his first film in 1959. In 1960, Toei, the box-office leader, launched New Toei, a second production and distribution arm, and the following year, Kinji Fukasaku made his first film.

20 May 2013

Ethical Media and Social Reconstruction in China

In December 2004, I found myself in a meeting room at Guangzhou's Guangdong Film Distribution Corp., participating in a discussion about the difference between a 'communist' and a 'party member' with the producer, director, cinematographer, and distributor of the independent documentary Soul of the Nation (Guohun), which tells the stories of China's nationalist and communist revolutionary heroes by touring their tombs and memorials throughout the country. Zhao Jun, the producer, recalled that his elementary school teacher had explained that whereas a communist was a true believer in communist ideals, a party member was somebody who had joined the Communist Party as an organization. Although I was interested in researching independent media production outside the party-state and I have read quite a lot about independent documentaries that exposed the dark sides of the party's history in the Western and Diaspora Chinese media, I did not expect to meet a group who jokingly self-identified themselves as 'Bolsheviks outside the party' in 2004, making and distributing a 'red theme,' independent documentary in Guangzhou, the frontier of China's 'reform and openness' and globalized commercial popular culture.

09 May 2013

Challenging the Norms of Documentary Filmmaking

'Two Laws/Kanymarda Yuma' is a film made by the Borroloola Aboriginal Community, who live in the Northern Territory of Australia. The film was shot by two Sydney filmmakers, Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, but because of the Borroloola community decisions over the choice of subject matter and methods of filming 'Two Laws' is described by its distributors as 'an epic story told by the Borroloola people.' The film is in four parts, each dealing with different moments in the history of white Australian institutional attempts to coerce the Aboriginal people into the acceptance of white law and white custom. Part One--Police Times--re-enacts a round-up and forced march which took place in 1933; Part Two--Welfare Times--deals with the process of settlement and the imposition of government policies of assimilation during the 1950s; Part Three--Struggle for Our Land--is concerned with more recent fights for the recognition of Aboriginal land and law in the Land Claims courts; and Part Four--Living with Two Laws--describes the movement back to traditional Aboriginal lands. The film therefore represents an attempt by the Borroloola people not only to talk of their own history, but also to decide how that history would be represented. It is a directly political project, as its title suggests, in its efforts to reconstruct and remember white institutional coercion and Aboriginal struggles against it.

24 April 2013

Child Development in the Media Age

In 'Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood,' educational theorists Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg assemble a collection of essays on children and the commodification of identity. They bring together a number of contemporary scholars of education, psychology and sociology into an interdisciplinary study of children’s popular culture and its implications for schooling and child development. Steinberg and Kincheloe introduce the essays with a chapter entitled ‘No More Secrets: Kinderculture, Information Saturation, and the Postmodern Childhood.’ The basic premise in their introduction is that the ‘information age’ has radically altered childhood, especially in the US but also in places adopting the American way of life, to the point that even the most basic assumptions underlying education and psychology are hopelessly outdated.

26 March 2013

African and Afro-American Cinemas

Historically, African cinema and Afro-American cinema can and should be located within the same social space of the Third Cinema-Third World Cinema. In broad terms, however, the former can be characterized by the search for and interrogation of origins, while the latter can be defined by its fight for positions and identity. African cinema seeks to establish methods and systems of production, distribution, and viewing, while Afro-American cinema is produced within diverse political and cultural national contexts. Afro-American cinema  is situated within a particular national culture, albeit one governed by complex and nuanced historical, social, and economic factors. The movement of historical events is the primary--although not the only--preoccupation of African cinema, while the examination of social mechanisms is central to Afro-American cinema. In both cinemas, however, oppression, liberation, struggle, and hope inform thematic structures and references.

13 March 2013

Satellite Television on the West Bank

Living under Israeli occupation can be quite boring at times, especially during lock downs and blockades such as those commonplace on the West Bank and in the Gaza strip. But have no fear, satellite television is here to 'occupy' all your idle hours. In large Palestinian towns like Ramallah, most people who can afford it subscribe to one or another of the various satellite TV services. The oldest and most popular is 'ArabSat,' which offers about 20 channels of broadcasting from various Arab countries. ArabSat has not included channels from Libya, Iraq, Morocco, or Qatar, but some of these can be seen on other, smaller satellite services. There are also European services with dozens of stations, including Turkey and, when it's not jammed, Iran.

18 February 2013

Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism

To the filmmaking community, Trinh T. Minh-ha is best known as the Vietnamese-born director of a number of experimental documentary films: 'Reassemblage,' 'Naked Spaces-Living Is Round,' and 'Surname Viet, Given Name Nam.' Visually stunning, poetic, and highly idiosyncratic, these works radically question and reopen ethnographic and documentary film languages. Her films represent one part of a much larger project, loosely organized around the 'problem' of how to represent a Third World, female Other. As well as making films, Trinh studied ethnomusicology and West African vernacular architecture, composes music, and has written a number of books. Many of these trends in her work are represented in the 1989 book, Woman, Native, Other.

10 February 2013

American Public Diplomacy in the Mideast

At the height of its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and concurrent with its ongoing 'war on terror,' the US government launched a public diplomacy campaign in the Arab world. It was ostensibly intended to project a cooler, kinder, and gentler image of the USA, even as American policies continued to wreak havoc in the region. Utilizing a variety of media, including news and entertainment in audio, video, and print, the efforts were linked by what appeared to be a common goal of attempting to win the hearts and minds of Arab youth.

24 January 2013

TV and the Irreproducibility of Reality

Time for a swim. I ease myself down from the rocks into the chilly water, feeling the mud between my toes. I stand for a minute, aware of the line on my calves between the cold of water and warmth of sun, and then dive in a taut stretch. I can feel the water rushing past my head, smoothing back my hair. As I stroke out to the middle, I'm conscious of the strength and pull of my shoulder blades. I haul myself out onto a rock in the middle of the pond, and sit there dripping. A breeze comes up, and lifts the hairs on my back, each one giving a nearly imperceptible tug at my skin. Under hand and thigh I can feel the roughness and the hardness of the rock. If I listen, I can hear the birds singing from several trees around the shore, and a frog now and again, and from the outlet stream a few hundred yards away a faint burbling - always changing and always the same. If I listen without concentrating, it's mainly the wind that I hear, a steady slight pressure on the leaves. I can see a hundred things - the sun reflects off the ripples from my passage and casts a moving line of shadow and sparkle on the rocks that rise up at the water's edge. I can smell the water. I can taste the water too - not the neutral beverage you drink because there's nothing in the fridge, but wet, rich, complete. As it drops into the corner of my mouth there's the slightest tang of salt from the trail sweat in the afternoon. I can feel my weight - feel it disappear as I slip into the water, feel it cling to me again as I drag myself back onto the rock.

09 January 2013

The Uniqueness of Kon Ichikawa

Although the long and distinguished film career of the late Japanese director Kon Ichikawa dated back to the 1930s and included many award winning films in Japan, he gained international attention in the 1950s and 1960s for a series of anti-war films, including 'The Burmese Harp' (nominated for an Academy Award in 1957) and 'Fires on the Plain' (winner of the Golden Sail at Locarno in 1961). It was during this period that a short symposium on his work was published in Japanese, which was subsequently translated into English for publication in the now defunct journal Cinema. Although Ichikawa began by saying that, 'I really don't know myself, so I'll just smile,' the symposium provides an early insight into the mind of the director and how he feels about his own work. Part of a series of symposia designed to reveal unknown aspects of films by Japanese directors, the following interview was conducted by two other Japanese film directors, Kyushiro Kusakabe and Akira Iwasaki.