We are all familiar with the latest blockbuster films from Hollywood – we have heard about them, even if we haven’t seen them; but what about the films produced by other filmmaking nations, those that lie beyond Hollywood?
Historically, there has been insufficient access to or discussion of non-Western, non-English language and non-mainstream cinema. While films made in the USA and Europe have received critical and popular attention, those made outside of this duopoly have often been ignored.
In 2019 the South Korean film, Parasite (Bong Joon Ho) was the first non-English language film to win Best Film at the 92nd Oscars ceremony. Inevitably, it generated huge interest in the film and in South Korean cinema more generally, and it led to significant global success for the film at the box office. There is a wealth of world cinema preceding this film, but it took over 100 years since the birth of cinema for this rich history to be recognised at the world’s most famous awards ceremony. Let us look at some of these…
Perhaps one of the most well-known film producing nations outside of Hollywood and Europe is Japan, which rose to international prominence during the 1950s, largely as a result of the films of Akira Kurosawa, Kenzo Mizoguchi and Yasjiro Ozu, whose films were shown at film festivals in Europe and the USA, garnering critical praise and respect. Films such as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961) were to prove very successful and especially influential, with both being remade in Hollywood and Italy respectively.
Brazil and Cinema Novo:
The Cinema Novo movement in Brazil during the 1960s led to a recognition on the world stage of what has been referred to as a counter cinema that sought to repudiate the mainstream (associated with the Hollywood model) and instead adopt new modes and philosophies of production, as well as a new approach to visual style. Glauber Rocha’s Deus e o diabo na terra do so/Black God, White Devil (1964) was to prove particularly influential.
There is a rich history of filmmaking in Africa stretching across the entire continent. Perhaps one of the most important figures was the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, often referred to as the father of African cinema. With films such as Borom Saret (1963) and La Noire de/Black Girl (1966), Sembene merges fiction and documentary to produce works that reflect African history and experience. Sembene, like many others, appropriated and subverted dominant film conventions to produce a new kind of film, engaging in what some have called an aesthetics of decolonisation.
Historically, Chinese cinema was difficult to access, but the emergence of the Chinese new wave in the 1980s and 1990s led to the internationalisation of a cinema that had remained almost invisible for decades. The so-called Fifth Generation filmmakers, such as Zhang Yimou, Hu Mei, Peng Xiaolian and Chen Kaige, were the fifth class to graduate from Bejing Film Academy’s Directing Department and were to become influential well beyond China. Films such as Chen Kaige’s Huang Tudi/Yellow Earth (1984) and Zhang Yimou’s Hong gao liang/Red Sorghum (1988) gained these directors international recognition, leading to careers in Hollywood for these two in particular.
Films such as Bicycleran/The Cyclist (Mohsen Makhmalbaf 1989) and Nema-ye Nazdik/Close-Up (Abba Kiarostami 1990) made by directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf led to the increased visibility and recognition of what became known as New Iranian Cinema in the 1990s. The international success of these films, representatives of a vibrant and exciting national cinema, led to some of its proponents becoming global filmmakers. As with so many film producing nations outside of Hollywood and Europe, the history and culture behind these films, as well as Iranian cinema more broadly, remains too little-known, one of the reasons why the study of these cinemas is so enriching culturally and so vitally important.