April 2014        

Are you going to the pictures?


Missing from many left-wing critiques of transnational corporations is the part played by cinema. We read daily about the depredations of the oil, financial and media giants. In Towards a Third Cinema by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino the cinema is described as “the most valuable tool of communication of our times.”
      This was written long before the advent of social media and also at a time when film-making was nowhere near as accessible as it is nowadays. It was also a hugely expensive craft. Nowadays, with relatively cheap equipment available, film-making is possible by huge sections of the population. Millions of young people can act, film and upload their work; it can then be viewed by millions more on social media sites. This does not mean, of course, that more “political” films are being made. (By “political” I mean conveying a specifically political message and, for the purpose of this article, a left-wing one.)
      Solanas and Getino describe how the main body of cinema reflects the ideological and economic interests of the owners of the industry. Towards a Third Cinema was written in the 1960s, but since then there hasn’t been a huge change in the Hollywood model of film-making, where films are entertainment products for making money.
      The Irish Times regularly features the takings for films. It is not alone in doing this. It is, though, a revealing way of judging films and says a lot about the commodification of “art.” If one goes to the mainstream cinema regularly it soon becomes apparent that the diet has not changed much over decades, and that the Ken Loaches are few and far between.
      Because of the easier access to equipment, more films are being made, both by amateurs and by trained film-makers. One thing they have in common is the difficulty of getting a public screening. Normal “free market” rules apply here, and hiring cinemas and films is still an expensive business.
      Now that alternative films can be made reasonably cheaply, how can the problem of screening be solved? Work may be uploaded to internet sites and viewed there; but is that what film-makers want? Also, does it replace the experience of the big screen and the public arena, where discussion can take place? There still seems to be a demand for the full-size cinema, despite the proliferation of small screens.
      In Dublin the Progressive Film Club, which is now in its sixth year of operation, has been involved in discussions and debate on these subjects. The ethos of the club is one of free admission to screenings. The club does not receive funding from any source and exists solely on donations by people attending screenings. In circumstances like these, feature films, because of their rental fees, are too expensive to be screened (legally). Some documentaries are also out of the price range. The ethos of the club demands that film-makers, particularly those on the left, should be paid for their work.
      About a year ago, in very straitened financial times, the club put out feelers to film-makers to have their work featured in a festival based loosely on the theme of social justice. The response was overwhelming, with films submitted from India, Pakistan, Bulgaria, the United States, Afghanistan, and Ireland.
      Some of the films are very professionally made and some are first-time efforts. There are films by young people and also by experienced film-makers. Judgements were not made on the quality of the offerings: so long as the content was not offensive, the films were included for screening. What all the films have in common is the lack of a platform for public screenings.
      There is a continuing debate in the Progressive Film Club with regard to the contradiction of providing this platform for screening films, which otherwise would have little chance of being seen, and being unable to financially reward film-makers for their work.
      The festival takes place from the 4th to the 7th of April in the Pearse Centre (27 Pearse Street, Dublin), and full details of the programme are available at www.progressivefilmclub.ie.
[RCN]

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