On The Politics of Film Festivals and Non-Western Nations

Since the Era of Exploration and colonization, beginning in the early fifteenth century, the institutionalization of certain Western and ethnocentric ideas have been globally established and implemented.

The current politics that govern the modern world is centrally based on the various ideas that the Western world or “first world” acts as the core and the Global South or “second” and “third world” acts as the periphery areas surrounding the core.  Known as the World Systems Theory, the structure of this theory proceeds to form the culture of the modern globalized society.

These ideas continue to reign over all realms within the modern world, including the politics of circulation and judgement of art and cinema.

Specifically regarding cinema, the structure that is implicated by such a global theory shapes the cultural critique of quality in film around the world.

The world of cinema takes the guise of the World Systems Theory in governing the politics of cinema and its circulation. Where the core is the West: Hollywood (US) and European Cinema, the rest of cinema is located outside of the core in the Global South.

Practical techniques and genres of film in the Global South, that purposefully reflect the core’s constructed ideals of profound art, is highly regarded and awarded. These Western-centric concepts are all a social construction, yet they perpetually constitute ideas when critiquing cinema.

Regardless of the existence of an international hierarchy, it does not prevent the creation and growth of national and art cinema in the Global South.

The obstacles and politics regarding the circulation of films, that nations in the periphery have faced since the 1950s, may be explained by these certain theories (such as the systems theory); these theories simultaneously provide the context for the development and genesis of cinematic new waves within the Global South.

Emergence of cinema and Golden Ages in film and culture, are directly consequential of the political conditions and equilibrium within the nation at the time.

While the creation of film and film tools is a European invention, its original technical distributions were global and of a less prestigious exchange. The real challenges that the Global South have faced in developing a film culture, reside in the individual nation’s internal political climate.

The first step in creating a new wave of cinema rests in the hands of a nation’s government, as there must be a source of funding to promote such a culture.

Willingness for a government to invest in a film culture can be attributed to the government’s own agenda of creating a national identity, or nation-building. Through the desire for the creation of such an imagined community within the nation, national cinema may be used as a tool that specifically promotes national iconography in an attempt to unify a nation based on the sharing of a common culture.

Cinema can then be utilized and act precisely for the purposes of nation-building, physically performing the cultural values and ideas of a nation to the peoples of the nation and the world. Furthermore, such an interest in constructing and promoting a national identity most often occurs after political independence has been achieved following the separation of the “third world’ country from the colonizing, Western “first world” nation.

In opposition of the promotion of national cinema, is the Auteur European Art Cinema. Art Cinema employs the ideas of the individual artist, and film acts as an artistic and personal expression of the filmmaker.

Needless to say, when expression is granted to an individual there may not always be pleasant or positive opinions spoken by the individual about their political circumstances. As the independent nation moves on a momentum of constructing a specific identity, any ideas that interfere with the agenda of the government may be censored and banished. As a result, Art Cinema in the Global South encounters many internal culturally structured barriers.

Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980)

Instances of such censorship, taken in part by the government of a nation in the Global South, involve cinema in Iran. For much of the mid-twentieth century, the reign of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, involved a massive national crusade for the construction of an imagined community and identity for Iran. This desire can be attributed to Iran’s long history of invasions and occupations by foreign invaders.

As a method taken in part with Iran’s quest for establishing an identity, the Iranian New Wave film movement was established by the Iranian government through the creation of various film institutions and festivals, such as the Tehran Film Festival; likewise, the promotion of a film culture was designed to serve the political agenda and interests of the Shah.

And where Art Cinema acts as a medium of expression for the filmmaker, films from the Iranian New Wave did not always reflect the positive and promoted image of the nation.

Unlike the mainstream national cinema genre, Filmfarsi, the Iranian New Wave did not feature song-and-dance sequences, but “was noted for qualities such as scripts based on contemporary novels, intellectual themes and dialogues, subdued visual backlash against the monarchy, [and] unhappy endings,” (Farahmand 271). Cow / Gaav (1969) by Daryoush Mehrjui belonged to the first Iranian New Wave of cinema.

Cow / Gaav (1969)

Taking place in a rural village in Iran, the Cow / Gaav, follows a village man’s descent into insanity following the death of his beloved cow, and the interplay of the surrounding villagers frantic attempts to solace him.

Mehrjui’s film was initially banned by the Iranian government. Reasons for the censorship of the Cow / Gaav most likely reside in the negative portrayals of the village peoples and its promotion of an undesirable image of Iranian people.

Regardless of these reasons, the actual allegorical meanings intended by Mehrjui were a critique of the politics surrounding the oil industry. Despite the efforts of the Iranian government, the film was circulated; having been smuggled in secret to the Venice Film Festival, it was awarded the top prize.

What may also be drawn from this particular case of Cow / Gaav, is a problematic system of awarding critical political films within a specific theme of third world strife. This brings into question if such third world features are at times created in an effort to appeal these European audiences at international film festivals.

Recognition for Art Cinema resides in the international film festival circuit that is centrally based around the core nations. Parallel to the World Systems Theory, there is the idea that the pinnacle of creative thought or most “advanced” artwork distinctly originates from Europe.

In addition to Iranian New Wave filmmakers, a desire to reach a Western audience from the periphery or Global South is shared by renown Indian director, Satyajit Ray. Similar to mainstream cinema in Iran, song-and-dance musical or Bollywood was the popular national cinema beginning in the 1950’s, following the independence of India in 1947. Also similar to Iran’s cinema, Satyajit Ray’s films, such as Pather Panchali (1955) were state-funded.

Pather Panchali (1955)

Ray’s Pather Panchali, a realist film that can be likened to the Italian Neo-Realism film movement, focuses on the life and struggles faced by a poor Indian family in a Bengal village.

Pather Panchali was not initially received as a popular film by Indian audiences.  The unpopularity of Art Cinema is not uncommon by national audiences and may be ascribed to mainstream national audience desires for more theatrical and fanciful features as a personal vehicle for escapist entertainment.

Ray’s film was, however, highly acclaimed by Western audiences, having been first featured in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Upon screening Pather Panchali, many Western audience members reacted in negative, and even ethnocentric manners, “an American lady, for instance, who was so upset by the spectacle of Indians eating with their fingers..had to leave the theatre as soon as the second dinner episode commenced” (Ray 81).

Claiming that he does not make his films for any other audience, Ray states, “All my films are made with my own Bengali audience in view” (86). Ray’s films are sincerely created to display authentic Indian life and culture; the ethnocentric opinions that arise from Western audiences are merely a result of the systematic separation of such societies and cultures.

Each individual nation has an independent authority to create films and spur a cinematic culture. However, it is up to each individual filmmaker’s own authority and desires to express ideas that may mindfully appeal to certain audiences, whether that may be the individual’s own government or international audiences at film festivals.

Many successful filmmakers from the Global South have been educated in the Western world; they have gained a knowledge for certain themes and Western techniques that might, in effect, appeal to Western audiences. If it is the case that many of these critical political films from the “third world,” such as Mehrjui’s Cow / Gaav or Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, are made for the Western appeal of third world grief, then the circulation of Art Cinema falls no differently than the operation of the systems theory.

While the Global South gains recognition at prestigious film festivals, this further reflects on if third world miseries are a commodity that serves the intellectual appetites for entertainment in the first world, especially since many of these Art Cinema films are not initially well-attended in their home countries.

These nations of the Global South move toward the core through producing their intellectual service to the privileged West. Apart from this theoretical consideration, the central analyzed issue rather revolves around the fact that there is the construction of what is considered to be the crème de la crème, and that this high class specifically originates from the core.

As a consequence, there lacks any footing for cinema from the periphery to be considered as interchangeable in terms of being the “best.” The palpable issue is the problematic existence of the construction of this “core” and “periphery” (or Global South) sectors in the world and its manifestation within the circulation of cinema.

Farahmand, Azadeh. “Disentangling The International Festival Circuit: Genre And Iranian Cinema.” Art Cinema Histories. 263-281. Print.

Ray, Satyajit. “Under Western Eyes.” Sight & Sound. 50th Anniversary issue (Autumn 1982): 68-91. Print.

(Featured image: Satyajit Ray)

The Feminism of That Girl and Marlo Thomas: A Brief History Lesson

Growing up I spent my weekends at home with my mother who would reminisce the days of her childhood by marathoning episodes of the 1960s TV show, That Girl on our DVD player.  Little did I really know, was that one of my mother’s favorite childhood shows had changed the future of TV forever, and all the shows I watched when I was a kid would have never been the same without “That Girl.”

That Girl‘s main character, Ann Marie, played by Ms. Thomas, is an aspiring actress in New York City who tries to maintain a number of odd jobs to support herself. The series begins with her leaving the home of her parents in Brewster, New York to move to the city in the hopes of becoming a 
Broadway star. The overbearing and protective character of her parents, especially her father, Lew Marie, is one of the points of humor the show focuses on. “Miss Independent,” was the nickname given to Ann by her father from when she decides to move out and make a life for herself independently in the ‘Big Apple’.

The name, ‘Miss Independent,’ was Marlo Thomas’s original pitch for the show’s title, but had later ended up becoming a major tagline for the branding of the show and for Miss Thomas herself.

Her character, Ann Marie, moves to New York as a single woman, but later meets her boyfriend, Donald Hollinger, a journalist for ‘NewsView’ Magazine. Don Hollinger, played by Ted Bessell, acted alongside Thomas as the co-star of the series. Ann’s beloved boyfriend, Donald, had also served many sources for the show’s humor, such as the male character interactions between Donald and her father, Lew Marie, played by Lew Parker.

Airing from 1966-1971 on ABC, the years in which That Girl was being broadcast on TV had also been the exact same time for America’s ‘Women’s Liberation Movement.’

The decision for Thomas to create and air this television series was no coincidence. Thomas set out to specifically preserve the authenticity and integrity of depicting the life of a real, working, single, woman of the time.

Thomas’s production debut shattered all prior television portrayals of women, by showing an unmarried women living on her own and working to support herself.

The only other show prior to That Girl with a female lead and producer was Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy. While I Love Lucy was groundbreaking in the 1950s for women in the entertainment industry, the elements of the sitcom still played on the domestic home dynamics of the decade. Said by Marlo to The Los Angeles Times in a feature on the premiere of That Girl in 1966, titled “Danny’s Daughter Marlo Thomas: On Her Own Now,” she explains that the show is not just about starring a girl; “I guess one of the things we’re trying to prove with That Girl is that it isn’t a disgrace to move from home. Our series is not a story about a New York actress but about this girl trying to make good on her own.”

Marlo not only attempted to depict an accurate portrayal of women, but also worked toward hiring women to take on the production roles for her show.

Despite the first season of the show having a team of all male producers and writers, Thomas took over the following season of That Girl and willingly searched for female writers to be a part of her staff.  She commented that she had actually downplayed her power at the time; “so as to not be too threatening (…) Power in a woman in the 60’s was seen as intimidating, and I bought into that. I was concerned that I wouldn’t attract the best and brightest men in comedy to work for me.”

Prior to her acclaimed role as her character, ‘Ann Marie,’ on the 1966 television show, Marlo was raised in Hollywood by her parents of Lebanese and Italian descent. Her father, Danny Thomas, had been a very successful comedic actor and producer in the entertainment business at the time she was growing up in Los Angeles.

Marlo’s book Growing Up Laughing, published in 2010, discusses her childhood with her father’s career and being constantly surrounded by the big entertainment figures from comedy TV sitcoms in her household. Thomas’s childhood was certainly an influence for her future career, as her comedic roots in television motivated her to enter into the business as an actress on a sitcom.

Thomas faced much controversy from the public and the press regarding her career and the influence of her father’s legacy in the industry.  Marlo was criticized by many for her powerful role she had during the production of That Girl, and she was often accused of being a product of nepotism in the industry.

Ms. Thomas addressed these comments and called nepotism an “unnecessary evil” and claims to have never originally intended on working for her father.  Reactions and criticism from the public on Marlo Thomas’s success is only reflective of society’s thoughts on women’s success of the time. It was thought that the success of her father, a man, had been the only reason for Ms. Thomas’s career rather than her own talent and ideas.

Rather than choosing a career path out of nepotism, Marlo Thomas’s creation of That Girl had been her own purposeful creation.  And behind the scenes of That Girl, Marlo Thomas still utilized all of her power of running her own television series and production company to its fullest potential in order to spread her message and deconstruct American society’s gender roles and prejudices towards women.

Thomas claims she was “born a feminist,” and was greatly inspired after reading the 1963 best-selling book by Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. She even lent her copy of 
Friedan’s book to Ed Scherick, who had been the head of ABC programming, in an effort to have his permission to create the pilot of That Girl; as a result, Thomas successfully convinced Scherick after he read her copy of The Feminine Mystique.

Friedan’s book was a catalyst for millions of women entering into America’s second wave of feminism. The Feminine Mystique’s aim was at breaking down the role of women in American society and how they had gotten to their place in the 1960s, by examining history from the wartime era 1940s, and then to the rising domesticity in the 50s.

Friedan thoroughly discusses the autonomy of the 1950s era housewife and highlights examples of how this image was being perpetuated throughout American society, “In the television commercials the pretty housewives still beamed over foaming dishpans and Time’s cover story on ‘The Suburban Wife, an American Phenomenon’ protested: ‘Having too good a time…to believe they should be unhappy.’”

The influence that Friedan had on women of the 60s was substantial; and its effect was emphasized even greater once Marlo Thomas became influenced by Friedan’s writings and went after changing the image of American women through media with all the resources she had in the entertainment industry.

During the time of Women’s Liberation, the feminist movement against bras occurred after a protest at the 1968 Miss America Pageant. A symbolic tossing of bras and other ‘feminine’ items (makeup, household items..etc.) took place by hundreds of protesters at the pageant. Marlo supported this cause as a public figure and represented her stance on That Girl. She remarked, “God created women to bounce, so be it.”And appearing as Ann on television, she stopped wearing a bra in character.

Every character on That Girl had a purpose toward revealing an authentic depiction of the free-spirited, unmarried, working, American woman that was Ann Marie.

“I could see very clearly that I didn’t want to be the wife of somebody, or the secretary of somebody, or the daughter of somebody. I wanted to carry the story as opposed to just being an appendage of the story, which is what women were on television” says Marlo on creating Ann’s character.

The character of Donald Hollinger, Ann’s boyfriend, is debatably an interesting motif that reflects topics in the 1960s-70s societal gender norms and sexuality.

Thomas admittedly explains that Donald’s purpose was to act as a foil for Ann Marie’s character. And the qualities that Donald’s character revealed would most often be Ann’s independence and authority over herself from her boyfriend, as well as father, by often neglecting the advice and direction they would give her.

Interpreting their relationship on camera during the 1960s was still a challenge, since most instances of 
sexuality were still very censored and unacceptable to show on television.

Most episodes ended with Donald saying good-bye to Ann at the end of the night and leaving her apartment, as to not imply any sexual relations.

Although the inclusion of the boyfriend and leading male figures is debatable in terms of ‘feminism.’  Later on leading-female series (beginning in the 1970s), such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, focus more heavily on female friendships with the absence of any long-term male relationships.

For the time That Girl was being aired, the presence of Donald’s character as Anne’s boyfriend was extremely unusual.  Since the premise of Anne’s character, was an unmarried and independent woman being portrayed on television.

Despite Thomas’s control over her own production, social obstacles were still a major source of pressure on her career and the television series.

The show’s outside sponsor, Clairol, and the television network, ABC, insisted on ending the series in 1971 with the marriage of Ann Marie to her boyfriend, Donald Hollinger.

Thomas adamantly refused for the finale of the show to end with a wedding. While she accepted the idea of an engagement (owing only to the possibility of breaking off the engagement), Thomas fought to end the show without a wedding finale.

The idea of Ann getting married was a disgrace to the character she created. She called this idea a betrayal to all of the women who follow the show and a dangerous idea to disseminate; “If we get married in the last show, what we’re saying is that’s the only happy ending there is [for women].”

Network executives urged her to end the show with a wedding for better ratings, however Thomas succeeded in avoiding the wedding episode; and had opted instead for the engagement of Donald and Ann.  With the final scene of the series showing Ann and Donald on their way to a ‘Women’s Liberation’ meeting as an ode to the true message that the series was meant to have for women.

After That Girl’s five-year runtime ended in 1971, Marlo Thomas still continued to be active in the industry and took up a career in activism.

Thomas added to her repertoire of contributions in feminist media with her Free To Be…You and Me children’s books and record album in the 1970s. Ms. Thomas also holds many honorable awards for her wide-range of activism, recently being awarded by President Obama for her work with St. Jude’s Hospital for Children (which was also started by the Thomas Family).

In spite of all the opposing obstacles that Marlo Thomas faced when producing her first series in the 1960s, Thomas broke through all existing societal boundaries against women with her celebrated role as Ann Marie and her own production of That Girl.

Marlo Thomas’s feminist influence on television revolutionized American media to its present form and paved way for the future of all female show-runners and female representation in media.

Gary Brumburgh, “Marlo Thomas,” Internet Movie Database, Apr. 6. 2015 (http://www.imdb.- com/name/nm0005486/bio).

“Nepotism an Unnecessary Evil for Marlo Thomas,” The Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1961, Part VIII.

Hal Humphrey, “Marlo Thomas–that girl goes it alone,” The Los Angeles Times, Sep. 25, 1966.

Marlo Thomas, “Marlo Thomas: First Single Working Woman on Televison,” PBS: Makers video, Feb. 26. 2013 (http://www.makers.com/marlo-thomas).

“She Made It: Marlo Thomas” The Paley Center for Media, Apr. 6. 2015 (http://www.shemadeit.org/meet/biography.aspx?m=57).

Yael Kohen, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy (Sarah Crichton Books, 2012), 59.

Betty Friedan, “Reawakening: The Feminine Mystique: The Problem That Has No Name,” in Feminism In Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present, ed. Miriam Schneir (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

Teresa Riordan, “Patents, In bra technology, an incremental improvement can translate into comfort,” The New York Times, Oct. 28. 2002.

Liliane Yidan

Can women ever be recognized as auteurs?

On my daily aimless perusing of IMDb I stumble upon article and article about all the celebrated directors of our time, and user compiled lists of “greatest directors ever.”  One thing I found that all these lists tend to have in common is that all of these “legendary” directors are men.  And not to mention when you google the terms “greatest directors” you’re immediately met with a scrolling banner of only white men.

via twodollarcinema.blogspot.com
from google image search of “greatest directors” via twodollarcinema.blogspot.com

In one of my film courses we were asked if we could name a female director and only about two or three students in my class of thirty could utter a name.

I’m not sure if this problem is seemingly glaring to anyone outside of the entertainment industry, since the audience only extends itself as far as viewing the final product.  But that still does not lessen the severity of this issue of inequality.  And to say that this is only an issue of the entertainment industry is looking at only a fraction of the entire problem.

The history of film is being taught to celebrate only these specific figures, without any room or consideration of greatness for someone else (namely a woman).

Women have been making movies for just as long as men have been, but that fact goes buried beneath the repeated and tired sentiments of praise for the same male directors.  The lack of discussion of women directors only continues to solidify a stigma against women being directors.

The assumption that women haven’t been directing movies just gives an underlying impression of amateurism and displacement in their work.

If a woman’s place isn’t in the director’s seat, then it must be a man’s.

Much like the rest of our textbooks, a missed opportunity for female recognition always seems to be a symptom of our society’s study of history and art.

And if women aren’t immediately recognized as directors, how can women ever be recognized as auteurs?

There are many barriers for women to be successfully recognized and celebrated as being innovative in creating films without being discredited and even labeled as an amateur filmmaker just because they aren’t male.  And let’s face it, it’s only because women as a whole gender have never had any experience professionally directing and even if they did those films would only be “chick movies”! (cue eye-roll).

To be plain, without any hinge of satire, I’m so tired of only celebrating white male directors as geniuses and auteurs.

Sure, their work is innovative and different, but can we take the same amount of time to appreciate female (as well as people of color) directors just as much?

Featured image: Sofia Coppola by Liliane Yidan