New Book: Cinema at the Periphery (2010)

April 24, 2010 at 12:47 am

A long time in the making, “Cinema at the Periphery is finally out, published by Wayne State University Press in Detroit as part of their series on Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television, under the general editorship of Barry Keith Grant.

Our idea for this project was to explore marginal cinemas from around the world by bringing them together in a comparative perspective. Because, as we see from Iceland to Iran and from Singapore to Scotland, a growing intellectual and cultural wave of production is taking cinema beyond the borders of its place of origin and ventures into exploring faraway places, interacting with barely known peoples, and making new localities imaginable. In an array of films that are made in the context of these traditions, previously entrenched spatial divisions no longer function as firmly fixed grid coordinates, the hierarchical position of place as “center” is subverted, and new forms of representation become possible. Thus, for the project Cinema at the Periphery (first a conference in 2006 and now finally a book), we assembled criticism that explored issues of the periphery, including questions of transnationality, place, space, passage, and migration. The brief to the contributors was to examine the periphery in terms of locations, practices, methods, and themes. The volume includes geographic case studies of small national cinemas located at the global margins, like New Zealand, Denmark or Scotland, but also of filmmaking that comes from peripheral cultures, like Palestinian “stateless” cinema, Celtic-language film, Australian Aboriginal films, and cinema from Quebec. Therefore, the volume is divided into two key areas: industries and markets on the one hand, and identities and histories on the other. Yet as a whole, the project is to illustrate that the concept of “periphery” is not fixed but is always changing according to patterns of industry, ideology, and taste. Most importantly, however, Cinema at the Periphery proposes a workable approach that allows us to link the inextricable interrelationship that exists between production modes and circulation channels and the emerging narratives of histories and identities they enable. It includes some really important writing by leading authors in the field of transnational film studies.

Let me take the opportunity and make an important link here. Back in June 2006, at the inaugural conference that marked the beginning of this project, we recorded the presentations of many of our guests and made them available on-line. Some of these, like Faye Ginsburg (NYU), Mette Hjort (Lingnan), Patricial Pisters (Amsterdam), Sheldon Lu (Santa Barbara), Laura Marks (Simon Fraser), Bill Marshall (Stirling), and Duncan Petrie’s (York) talks became the basis of chapters in the current book. Others, like Dudley Andrew (Yale), John Caughie (Glasgow), Pam Cook (Southampton), Hamid Naficy (Northwestern), Rod Stoneman (Huston Film School), Kristian Feigelson (Paris), published their work elsewhere. While still others, like Lucia Nagib (Leeds), opted to participate in the book but by presenting us with texts on topics that differed from those that they presented. We also commissioned several essays that were added to the two parts of the volume (Industry and Ideology). These included contributions by all three of us — myself and David Martin-Jones (both still at the University of St. Andrews) and Belén Vidal (who since moved to take up a job at King’s College in London) — who acted as editors of the collection. We also included a specially commissioned piece by Kay Dickinson (Goldsmiths) (on Palestinian cinema in an international context). Back then, a number of reviews of the event appeared in the film press. Here is a link to the one published in Senses of Cinema.

Reviews of the book are still to materialise, and I would be most excited to see this volume reviewed internationally, at the periphery and in those locations whose cinematic cultures we aimed to discuss (e.g. Spain, Quebec, Denmark, Brazil, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia, China, Palestine, and others). If you are writing for the film journals in these (or other peripheral) countries, where there is likely to encounter particular interest to the writing included in the volume, for review copies, please be in touch with the Press’s coordinator Sarah Murphy at murphysa@wayne.edu. For the time being, we only have Ruby Rich’s lines that describe the book as a ‘collection of reflections that challenge conventional definitions of national film cultures’ that we can quote.

The Only Popular Tax Ever Known: The UK Robin Hood Tax Campaign

April 13, 2010 at 2:59 am

The proposal to tax banking profits for the benefit of a variety of not-for-profit causes came to prominence with this short video, released in the UK in early February 2010, starring the ever popular Bill Nighy and directed by Richard Curtis, whose name is usually linked to feel-good British rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral (which he wrote) and Love Actually (which he wrote and directed).

The argument in favour of the tax, an apparently grass-roots initiative, has now proliferated into a wider scale campaign (reportedly supported by more than a million activists) which is headquartered at an own web-site that represents a consortium of various activists and other non-profits (or ‘charities’, as they are called in the UK). It has been gaining momentum last week since the announcement of the coming elections on 6 May 2010. Supported by influential American economist Jeffrey Sachs (a man revered and loathed in different circles), the proposal is for a variation of the so-called Tobin tax, which makes provision for imposing a very small ‘spot’ levy on large financial transactions of the type that investment banks are regularly involved with.

Supporters of the tax were involved in events around Hyde Park’s Speakers corner last weekend. It all happens as Swiss-owned bank UBS is reporting a first-quarter pretax profit of 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.4 billion), compared with a loss of around 1.5 billion francs a year earlier. The campaign have just released a new video, starring Ben Kngsley as a banker (as well as a bunch of up and coming ethnic minority actors as the hooded boys who rob him in the ‘bank directors only’ car park).

In addition, here is a short video, again featuring Bill Nighy explaining why is this a good idea (as ‘no one is targeted, no individual is being punished’, and ‘it could be the only popular tax ever known’) and asking that people keep an eye on the campaign that appears to be gathering pace.

Breaking and Entering (2006, UK/USA, dir. Anthony Minghella)

November 3, 2008 at 12:47 am

Even though this film does not seem to deal directly with migration, it reveals the hierarchy of belonging in post-Cold War Europe. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, Breaking and Entering (UK/USA 2006) offers a revealing panorama of the symbolic hierarchical standing of different social groups in London. Its prosperous protagonist Will, an architect, is the owner of a beautiful home with a SW postcode; his partner is an attractive Swedish blonde whose daughter, Bea, suffers from autism. A gang of migrants from former Yugoslavia repeatedly breaks into Will’s studio at Kings Cross. Determined to prevent further break-ins, Will takes on night shifts to watch the studio; here he meets and befriends Oana, a streetwise prostitute from Romania. Will also meets the mother of one of the teenage robbers, the Bosnian migrant Amira, who ekes out a living by repairing clothes in her flat in the nearby housing project. Will falls in love with Amira and has several sexual encounters that leave him truly infatuated.Soon, however, he becomes paranoid and begins to suspect that Amira might have entered the relationship in order to protect her felonious offspring; he imagines she may try to blackmail him. Even though he is ready to forget the burglaries, he ‘sobers up’ and takes some radical steps to put an end to the relationship with Amira. While making the generous gesture to forgive the aberrant son at the cost of his own public embarrassment, Will regains the respect of his beautiful Swedish partner. The passion for the Bosnian woman fades away, only occasionally haunting him as a bad dream.

The plot configuration is representative of what has been aptly described as ‘nesting Orientalism’ (Bakic-Hayden). On the surface, Breaking and Entering focuses on the midlife crisis of a white upper middle-class Briton, while below the surface it reveals a hierarchical reality of a Western metropolis where ‘clean’, ‘elevated’ (‘white’) Europeans (an Englishman, a Swedish woman) are forced to co-exist and interact with ‘untidy’ (‘dark’) migrants (a Romanian prostitute, a Bosnian delinquent and his jobbing mother), but soon regain control and distance themselves from these low-grade contacts. A variety of details in the film efficiently restate Europe’s hierarchies: The British protagonist is an educated professional, an architect, who is responsible for a regeneration project in central London’s Kings Cross where the film’s migrant characters live. The Eastern European characters, by contrast, may have had professional lives at some point, but now inhabit the murky spaces of the metropolis and earn a living in menial jobs or moonlight as petty criminals. The daughter of the blond Swede is autistic, but has exceptional talents; she is treated by considerate psychologists. By comparison, the son of the Bosnian brunette is on skid row and in the ‘care’ of tough-talking policemen and overworked social workers. The Swedish woman has difficulties coping with her child’s disability; hence she needs all of Will’s love (and financial support), which she demands and accepts with an air of noble superiority. The Bosnian woman has difficulties coping with her son’s law-breaking, and the revelation of her relationship with Will is tainted with the references to a lowly blackmail-driven affair that should preferably not be mentioned in public.

All that Breaking and Entering purports to do is to show the private predicament of a middle-aged man in need of love. In charting his dilemmas, however, the film reveals a background panorama of racial and class disparities and dependencies, which provide insights into understanding the dynamism of postcolonial Europe and ultimately bring up issues of identity and ideology that are also raised in other of European films – from Lukas Moodyson’s Lilja 4-Ever (Sweden/Denmark 2002) to Ken Loach’s It’s A Free World ((UK/Italy/Germany/Spain/Poland 2007) – that look at further aspects of the post-1989 migrations and make powerful statements on the postcolonial condition as it plays out in Europe today.

© Dina Iordanova
3 November 2008