The Question of Third Cinema: African and Middle Eastern Cinemas

By Stollery, Martin | Journal of Film and Video, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Question of Third Cinema: African and Middle Eastern Cinemas


Stollery, Martin, Journal of Film and Video


This course considers definitions of the term Third Cinema, arguments for its validity as a mode of film practice, and specific instances of film production and exhibition from Africa and the Middle East to which the term may or may not usefully be applied. Hence the title's emphasis on the question of Third Cinema. The course consists of three sections: (a) an introduction to debates about Third Cinema, then two subsequent sections offering an integrated series of selected case studies drawn from: (b) sub-Saharan Africa; (c) North Africa and the Middle East. These focus theoretical debates in relation to various national cinemas, movements, and filmmakers, whilst also raising issues specific to these diverse contexts. The case studies are used to question whether the concept of Third Cinema is relevant to films emerging from these areas, and what its relevance might be now. One reason for selecting these two main case study areas is that, on the one hand, there is a certain degree of overlap (for example, the Carthage film festival in Tunis is a major showcase for sub-Saharan, North African, and Middle Eastern films); on the other hand, students can, by the end of the course, develop detailed comparisons and contrasts which do not take Hollywood or European productions as the norm.

The course also explores the implications of the fact that a range of other, often more popular forms of cinema are also exhibited and produced within the areas considered. The potential discrepancy between Third Cinema as an aspiration and the actual experience of the majority of audiences in the Third World is foregrounded as a key issue. Certain constraining factors inform the way that the course is organized: for example, the restricted and erratic availability of films, which is itself an important topic for discussion.

The objective is to provide a forum where students can develop theoretically and historically informed critical perspectives on Third Cinema, and on selected examples of African and Middle Eastern film production, through consideration of debates about: colonialism, anti-colonialism, and the politics of representation; postmodernism, postcolonialism, and emergent constructions of new national and transnational identities; the ways in which these developments intersect with issues of class, gender, and sexuality. The aim is to achieve an informed understanding of African and Middle Eastern film production and film cultures, and to familiarize students with the problems and possibilities associated with attempts to exhibit and promote critical discussion of African and Middle Eastern cinemas in Western Europe and North America.

The key text for this course is Imruh Bakari and Mbye Cham, eds., African Experiences of Cinema, Bloomington: Indiana UP/BFI, 1996. Almost all of the essays contained in this collection are germane to this course, and several are essential reading. Ideally, the whole book should be read before the course begins.

This is a final year undergraduate course which presupposes previous critical and historical study of Hollywood and European cinemas. Preferred readings and screenings are starred (*), but alternative screenings are listed for most units to allow for limited film availability.

Sharon A. Russell, Guide to African Cinema (Westport: Greenwood, 1998) provides a guide to current film availability in the U.S.

A. CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS AND THEORIES OF THIRD CINEMA

1. Introduction-Locating Ourselves

From the outset, students need to be critically aware of the way that their relationship to and understanding of the material they encounter in this course is framed by their own assumptions and by the particular contexts in which they encounter "other" cinemas. It is important that they begin to analyze reflexively their role as viewers occupying specific cultural and historical locations, rather than taking for granted the status of neutral, objective observers. …

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