I saw more great women-made cinema in 2019 than in any previous year. How disheartening, then, to note the extent to which the work of male directors continues to dominate film culture. In order to meaningfully and significantly shift the terrain of women’s cinema in the direction of equity, it is crucial to talk about the politics of evaluation. Why are certain films valued highly—appearing on lists, nominated during awards season, talked about on social media, written about at length—and other films less so?
In Lino Brocka’s Bona (1980), Filipina star Nora Aunor plays the titular character, who grows infatuated with Gardo (Phillip Salvador), a B-movie actor and stuntman. Bona gives up the comfort of her middle-class home, leaving behind her family and boyfriend, to live with Gardo in a Manila slum. She dedicates her life to serving Gardo full-time, in spite of the many abuses to which he subjects her. Illustrating the imbalance of their relationship, Bona bathes her lover every night, ensuring the water is always warm enough for his liking, even after he brings other women home for his sexual adventures. At the end of the film, after being told by Gardo that she should leave his home, Bona gives him one more bath—this time with boiling water. Bona watches her lover scream in agony as she carries out her vengeance with the same serenity with which she had formerly carried out his bidding. Balancing highly emotional scenes with a quasi-documentary depiction of decaying Manila streets, Brocka reconfigures film melodrama into a defiant political act.
Marina Razbezhkina is a well-known Russian documentary filmmaker, educator, and founder of the largest independent documentary school in the country. Her very original approach to documentary, which combines intimate proximity to the protagonist with raw observational aesthetics, revolutionized the Russian film landscape and became the trademark of her school. Her students most often work as a one-person crew with a lightweight hand-held camera shadowing their protagonists up close. This “hunt for reality,” as Razbezhkina terms the practice, usually results in deeply engaging observational documentaries that completely absorb the viewer into an unfamiliar reality. In this interview Razbezhkina talks about the beginnings of her career, explains the origins and the core of her filmmaking method, and discusses the changing role of documentary in the modern world.
Today, there are celebrations taking place across U.S. universities. The creation of Asian American studies centers and departments fifty years ago was the culmination of an effort by students, administrators, and community members to reorient American history, to engage directly in their communities, and to promote Asian American faculty research and hiring. By 1968, there had been at least three generations of Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese in the United States, many engaged in profound political work, but what was new about the late sixties was the creation and institutionalization of a collective, pan-ethnic voice known as Asian America.
There was a dustup last fall over an op-ed by Martin Scorsese in the New York Times and his earlier interview with Empire magazine.1 Controversy erupted after he compared the movie franchises based on Marvel comic books to theme parks, saying they weren’t cinema, that he’d never go watch them, that they are ruining cinema. Hardly surprising! With the exception of his own delightful Hugo (2011) and his tireless World Cinema Project rescues of global film history, Scorsese is known for his own brand: a cinematic realism of hard streets, hard men, and hard mob battlegrounds, always set in specific pasts (New York, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Boston) and always etching the DNA of masculinity onto the screen with unfailingly precise craftsmanship.
Special Dossier: Asian American Film at Fifty
Joanna Hogg’s Spatial Emotions
Interview: Marina Razbezhkina
Mar del Plata Film Festival
Romance in End of the Century
Indigeneity in Latin America Films
Reading Musicals, Reviving Lino Brocka
Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s recent film The Infiltrators uses a bold mix of film forms to tell the true story of a group of young undocumented activists who intentionally detain themselves in a South Florida immigration detention facility. Styled as a heist film, Ibarra and Rivera weave together verité footage, testimony, and reenactment to produce a compelling argument against immigration detention. In Diana Ruiz’s interview, Ibarra and Rivera discuss the ways in which The Infiltrators problematizes extractive modes of documentary film and how the project’s requisite reenactment brought about unexpected results. They also discuss the creative and political dimensions of “undocumented storytelling,” which relates to the filmmakers’ enduring commitment to depicting fully dimensional representations of immigrants and Latinx experiences.
Racquel Gates and Kristen J. Warner are colleagues and soul twins who enjoy applying their expertise in race and media to popular culture debates. One such conversation arose —inevitably—around the release of Marvel’s Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler.
“FQ” the Film Quarterly podcast presents SUNDANCE EDITION 2018.
To many men and women of color, as well as many white women, meaningful diversity occurs when the actual presence of different-looking bodies appear on screen. For them, this diversity serves as an indicator of progress as well as an aspirational frame for younger generations who are told that the visual signifiers they can identify with carry a great amount of symbolic weight. As a consequence, the degree of diversity became synonymous with the quantity of difference rather than with the dimensionality of those performances. Moreover, a paradoxical condition emerges whereby people of color have become more media savvy yet are still, if not more, reliant on overdetermined and overly reductive notions of so-called “positive” and “negative” representation. Such measures yield a set of dueling consequences: first, that any representation that includes a person of color is automatically a sign of success and progress; second, that such paltry gains generate an easy workaround for the executive suites whereby hiring racially diverse actors becomes an easy substitute for developing new complex characters. The results of such choices can feel—in an affective sense—artificial, or more to the point, like plastic.