Following the eruption of racial violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the 1943 US War Department film, Don’t Be a Sucker, went viral, suggesting that news outlets and social media users found its message to be newly relevant. Don’t Be a Sucker, which warns Americans of the perils of falling for divisive fascist rhetoric, was one of countless films, radio broadcasts, and television specials produced by governmental and civic organizations during the mid-twentieth century.
The earthquake of September 19 left me shaken but unharmed in my Mexico City hotel. Others were not so lucky. Hard hit was the Permanencia Voluntaria Film Archive in Tepoztlán, an hour or so outside Mexico City. The invaluable archive is dedicated to very neglected fare: the rich heritage of Mexican popular film, especially the unique genres of wrestling movies and fichera (showgirl) features.
Syrian Cellphone Documentaries
Rithy Panh’s Exiles
Emiko Omori’s Camera Eye
Virtual Reality: Beyond the Platform
Casting JonBenet, Multiple Maniacs,
Their Finest, The Jewel and the Crown,
Bellas de noche, Plaza del la Soledad
Reports from True/False, Full Frame, Orphans
One of the most significant aspects of the wave of protests and uprisings that began in Syria in 2011 was the use of the cell phone camera as a tool of documentation, political activism, and creative expression. With professional journalists and major news networks barred from entering the country, Syrian citizens took it upon themselves to record their own protests as well as the violent reactions they provoked from members and supporters of the Assad regime. In the first few months of protests (March–June 2011), these recordings were virtually the only images coming out of Syria. Gradually, however, exiled political activists smuggled cell phones, cameras, and laptops into Syria with the specific aim of documenting protests and violence.
By happy coincidence, Mexico in 2016 yielded two expert and moving documentaries on women, sex, and aging: María José Cuevas’s Bellas de noche (Beauties of the Night) and Maya Goded’s Plaza de la Soledad (Solitude Square). Both are first-time features by female directors. And both are attempts to reclaim previously neglected subjects: showgirls of the 1970s and sex workers in their seventies, respectively. Moreover, lengthy production processes in which the filmmakers cohabitated with their subjects have resulted in films that are clearly love letters to their protagonists.
The idea that a struggle can be waged via cinema is an appealing one today, as so many other battlefields seem already lost. For me, there is always hope lurking in film and television and, increasingly, online media. Political obstacles may seem insurmountable, but as I am fond of declaring: nobody has to elect a film. You can buy your ticket or download the new season or share the latest upload or streaming evidence and—at press time, at least—no one can stop you.
The Cinémathèque Française in Paris announced it would present a major retrospective of Arzner’s films in March and April. Whatever one might say about the many treasures of the Cinémathèque, one fact is incontrovertible: women film directors have never figured prominently. Could the Arzner program offer a refreshing change in the Cinémathèque’s offerings, perhaps even a sign that traditional French cinephilia is loosening its hold on French film culture? Sadly, not.