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.

Krvavi put/ Blodveien/ Blood Road (Yugoslavia/Norway, 1955)

April 3, 2010 at 12:21 am

The Blood Road, a Norwegian-Yugoslav co-production released in February 1955, was co-directed by Rados Novakovic (1915-1979), a director whose name is mostly linked with a variety of resistance-themed films made in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, and Norwegian Kåre Bergstrøm (1911-1976).

I am not familiar with the real historical background of the events depicted in the film, nor have I any detailed knowledge of captured Yugoslav partisans being kept by the Nazis in places as remote as Norway (the geographical distance makes it seem impractical). Yet it seems the film is based on real events from the time of WWII. The focus is mostly on the dynamics between those kept in the camp (a group of captured Yugoslav partisans, who are systematically being destroyed by the Nazis through hard labor, inhuman conditions or straightforward murder) and a group of local Norwegians who, caught by historical circumstance, end up involved working in the context of the camp and who, appalled by the Nazis’ inhumanity, gradually grow determined to help the prisoners. The personal drama evolves around two sets of fathers and sons. On the one hand, there is Janko and his father, prisoners, and on the other hand there is the local man Ketil and his son Magnar. Janko dreams of freedom and manages to escape (while his dedicated father perishes in the camp); this father-son pair live in perfect understanding and, once free, the son will continue the struggle of the father. Not so with the difficult relationship between Kjetil, who is determined to help the partisans, and Magnar, who is not only employed by the Nazis but seems totally faithful to them. The rift between father and son (which is equated to a rift between moral responsibility and lowly opportunism) grows deeper and leads to a tragic end: Kjetil accidentally shoots Magnar dead while defending Janko, the escapee. It is the dramatic tension around the relationships of these four characters that keeps the film going; otherwise there isn’t much more but a variation of other films that deal with the life of prisoners in a camp, as seen in films like Stalag 17; other much superior camp films have been made since.

In my recent purchase and watching of this film, I was mostly intrigued by the fact the DVD cover listed the Norwegian Norske Film and Avala film (the Belgrade production studio) as co-producing partners — a transnational collaboration between two peripheral European countries realised in a period during which such joint projects were not very common (some would even claim no such collaborative projects ever took place in the divided Europe of the 1950s). Well, there is one more piece of evidence of the existance of such transnational efforts, and one that testifies not only to the interesting subterranean dynamics of Cold War cultural politics of the 1950s, but also of the liveliness of collaborations between individual small national cinematographies. Tim Bergfelder has explored some aspects of such forgotten (but in fact, quite lively) cross-national collaborations in his book on German co-productions in the 1960s“. Clearly, there is quite a bit more to highlight and work on in terms of Europe’s co-productions history, especially as co-productions between Western (Nordic, in this case) countries and those of the East bloc, especially intriguing in the case of communist maverick states like Yugoslavia and Romania whose cultural policy was relatively independent from the Soviets and who engaged in a variety of extremely interesting co-production ventures. It has been written about only sporadically and in scattered locations; a collaborative transnational project is perhaps due here to highlight these forgotten trans-bloc cultural exchanges of the Cold War.

I bought a copy of the DVD at a large special store in one of Tromso’s shopping malls this January, during the film festival. The DVD cover, pictured above, lists the film as part of the series of ‘Norwegian classics’ that have been now released on DVD (Norske klassikere). Once I had purchased it, I asked around some of the Norwegian friends who were at the festival, but none of them seemed to have heard of the film. When searching on the IMDb for more information on it today, I was not able to find a listing for such a Norwegian classic at all: the search for ‘Blodveien’ only produced a reference to the film’s Yugoslav title, Krvavi put. However, I see that there is at least one review of the DVD in Norwegian, by Kai Arne Johansen at the Norwegian-language site Cinerama.no (I wish I could read it, especially as I see it makes some references to Oscars and Cannes, if I get that correctly).

To purchase the DVD, with English subtitles, click through here.

© Dina Iordanova
3 April 2010

Australia’s ‘Touring’ Festivals

March 27, 2010 at 4:49 am

I am posting here and excerpt from our new volume: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities.

This is an exchange with Australian film critic and academic Adrian Martin on the matter of distribution entrepreneurship and cultural diplomacy, one of the areas explored in the book.

Dina Iordanova: ‘Like most other major territories,’ writes Sandy George in Screen International, ‘Australia has a clutch of festivals dedicated to spotlighting cinema from a single territory, of which the French, Italian and Spanish film festivals are the biggest’ (‘Spreading the Foreign Word’, 29 May 2009: 34). In the case of Australia, however, this seems to be an interesting case where cultural diplomacy and film distribution related to overseas cinema work together. According to George, the touring French Film Festival is organised by Alliance Francaise and the French Embassy, yet one-third of the thirty or so films that it showcases do have an existing local distributor attached, thus the event can be regarded as a specific distribution set-up. Distributors have been taking ‘a slice of all festivals receipts’ since 2006, she notes, and have recognised that festivals showings assists them in reaching out to wider audiences than the normal art house circuit. Jean-Jacques Garnier, the French Embassy’s cultural attaché, dubs as an artistic director for the festival (George 2009). Apparently, there are also a German, an Italian, and a Spanish film festival, all of which seem to tour the same range of cities (Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane), thus covering the territory with an array of nationally-themed film festivals, all quite highly placed within the ‘vertical mosaic’ of festivals here. I was struck to discover the advanced level of coordination of these festivals. It is only here that we so regularly see national film festivals that are listed as ‘touring’; they always seem to go to the same set of cities, and they all seem to have a web-site that is set up in a uniform way (e.g. Spanish Film Festival; Italian FF, Greek FF). So I wonder if there is any special cultural policy context in which this is taking shape with such uniformity? Admittedly, we have got some varieties of this in the UK (e.g. French Film Festival and Italian Film Festival, run by the same group, that go to a selection of cities) but ‘touring’ here usually involves a combination of mixed cities, whoever has come on board, really, rather than a showcase systematically covering the big cultural centres, whereas in the Australian case it always seems to be a cluster of the same cities. Would you like to comment about this observation?

Adrian Martin: Yes, the situation of the touring national film festivals is peculiar to Australia, and for a very specific reason. It all has to do with a distribution/exhibition company called Palace, which has been running since at least the 1980s and is still essentially a ‘family business’ run primarily by husband (Antonio Zeccola), wife, and their grown-up kids at various levels of the organisation. Palace is among the few surviving ‘independent’ distributor-exhibitors of the twenty-first century scene in Australia, partly through savvy business sense and also through their various deals with the major commercial distributors. Palace has managed to extend into several states of Australia. Hence the spread of state-venues you have noted. Palace has always had a strong connection to (mainly European and ‘old school’) art cinema. Their exhibition venues are known to the public as ‘boutique’ or ‘arthouse’ cinemas, and the actual programming mixes typical arthouse fare (Haneke, French comedies, Jarmusch, etc.) with films from the majors like Tarantino and suchlike.

So, Palace has always been involved — as a matter of Italo-Australian national pride, partly! — in certain high-profile festival-events that are very successful for them: especially Italian and French. This goes back (in my recollection) at least to the 1990s. Palace have a technique that works well for them: when they programme these festivals (by sending their own reps to Italy and by having contacts with the likes of Unifrance), to avoid problems with booking and availabilty of prints over the entire haul of the national tour around Palace cinemas, they actually buy the rights to about a dozen of these films. So they have one or two 35 mm prints that screen really only for the duration of the event (and afterwards can be made available for Australian cinematheque and other special screenings). A year or so later all the films are released on Australian DVD (‘bare bones’ style, subtitled in English but with no extras) in a ‘box set’ called something like ‘Italian Film Festival 2008’. Palace also have a relation to a music-publishing company, so there are also CDs that help to promote these events, e.g. ‘Soundtrack to the French Film Festival’, which is usually just a lot of current pop tunes with little relation to the films! But the CD sells well with the ‘world music’ crowd in Australia.

Now we come to the next part of this process, which has been occurring in recent years. Palace does its own festivals, but it also ‘hosts’ others, responding to advances from small cultural groups in the Australian, Spanish, German and other communities: a Spanish group named ‘Filmoteca’ (a monthly film society), for instance, or the Goethe-Institut. Palace becomes a partner in programming these events, sourcing prints and doing promotions and sets up the national touring, which is the big drawcard for these small groups. Palace has a say in how the event unfolds. If it has just bought, for example, The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, Germany, 2008) or some other new high-profile title, it will propose that it is the showcase Opening Night presentation in the German Film Festival, and Palace will bring down the actors and/or director for promotional purposes.

To sum up, this whole phenomenon is not at all a ‘cultural policy’ initiative of governments (although some of the small ethnic-interest cultural groups I have mentioned may receive various government subsidies – but nothing like what it takes to do a national film tour). It is purely an ‘enlightened business initiative’ by a company that itself started as a small, independent business and has held on to some of its cultural goals to showcase international art cinema — even if still in fairly mainstream terms.

New Book Announcement: Moving People, Moving Images

March 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

Co-written with my colleagues William Brown and Leshu Torchin, Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe is the first title in our new series on Cinema and Transnational Discourse (St Andrews Film Studies, 2010). The next title planned for the series will look into the wide range of cinematic representations of international terrorism in cinema.

We hope to find a wide exposure for this volume, far beyond the narrow film studies field (it is no accident that this was also the best-selling title of all the books we introduced at the recent multiple book launch event at the BFI Filmstore on Southbank in London). It is a volume on the representation of human trafficking in international cinema, and even though it is a ‘film studies’ work, we believe it is really of interest to much wider circles as these are matters of immediate concern to social workers, migration specialists and activists. The book discusses a range of films, both feature and documentary, reflecting the situation with human trafficking in a great variety of countries — from Turkey to Sweden, from Sri Lanka to Greece, from Serbia to Italy, from North Africa to Spain, and so on.

ISBN (13): 978-1-9066-7803-6 (paperback)
180pp.
Price £17.99 (UK), $29.00 (US)
Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

The volume is divided in three parts, which include respectively general essays; close analysis of fifteen important international films on trafficking; commentary on the political aspects of the usage of these films in the context of activism.

Here is a more detailed Table of Contents

PART ONE. Landscapes
William Brown – Negotiating the Invisible
Leshu Torchin – Foreign Exchange
Dina Iordanova – Making Traffic Visible, Adjusting the Narrative

PART TWO: Close-Ups

In-depth analyses of The Bus (Turkey/Sweden, Tunc Okan), The Guardian Angel (Yugoslavia, Goran Paskaljevic), When Mother Comes Home for Christmas(Greece/India/Germany, Nilita Vachani), Wesh wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe? (France, rabah Ameur-Zaimeche), Poniente (Spain, Chus Gutierrez), Spare Parts (Slovenia, Damjan Kozole), Promised Land (Israel/France, Amos Gitai), Ghosts (UK, Nick Broomfield), It’s a Free World… (UK, Ken Loach), Import/Export (Austria, Ulrich Seidl), Love on Delivery and Ticket to Paradise (Denmark), The Silence of Lorna (Belgium, Dardenne Brothers) and Taken (France, Pierre Morel).

Part THREE: Traffic Jam
Film, Activism, and Human Trafficking

Excerpts of reviews:

Moving People, Moving Images tackles human trafficking, one of the most serious consequences of the massive movement of people enabled by post-Wall processes of economic and cultural globalization in Europe. While immigration, migration, exile, and the illegal movement of people have been the subject of much work in film and media studies recently, few volumes would take such a bold stand in favour of the possibility of filmic activism. One of the attractions of this book is precisely that it refuses to tread lightly and tentatively across the well-established divide between cinematic representations and socio-political issues. It makes a provocative argument for the political effect of films and proposes that human trafficking should not be the rightful, let alone the exclusive, domain of governments, NGOs, activist organizations and the social sciences.
— Aniko Imre, University of Southern California

Moving People, Moving Images is a groundbreaking and much-needed study of the intersections between film and human trafficking. Through a sophisticated and versatile approach, and against the backdrop of theories of economic globalisation, transnationalism, post-colonialism, identity and modernity, it offers a theorisation of human trafficking that engages with a range of published work on social and critical theory as well as on film studies…. This volume is both a complete and valuable teaching tool, and a precious resource for future research, and sets the agenda for more work in this all-important area.
— Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork, Ireland

Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

Screen International: Explanation on Box Office Tables

November 25, 2009 at 12:59 am

I have received two extremely useful reactions from people at Screen International in regard to the posting dated 17 November 2009, related to the tables listing international and global box office figures. As they explain, these are two completely different things and the direct comparison is not adequate.

Jack Warner has explained:

I wish to inform you that your piece contains a fundamental error. It assumes two commonly used film industry terms are one and the same, where in fact one encompasses the other.

In the film industry, the term ‘international’ is used to describes all overseas territories, everything outside North America (’domestic’). In contrast the term ‘global’ is used to signify worldwide, meaning ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ combined.

It should now become clear to you that Screen’s Global Top Ten, as indicated on the chart itself, is a tally compiled from the North America box office chart and the Top 40 International Chart, with which you have been comparing it directly.

Conor Dignam writes:

the two tables you refer to on ScreenDaily and in Screen International are completely different. The international table means films that exclude the US box office – while the global films include US box office. The aim is to give a picture of the box office outside of North America, where the scale of the US skews the figures.

Both comments are made on the blog, and in both cases I am asked to remove the posting and to check with Screen International first before making comments on the information they feature. As the information is clearly erroneous, I would be happy to consider removing it. It seems more adequate to me, however, to leave it with this explanation attached, as others like myself would be misled the same way, provided that the explanation is not readily available.

In fact, I have tried to query the methodology related to compiling the International Box Office figures on several occasions previously with the compiler, to never receive a response. It is a pity it takes a public posting on a blog in order to get a reaction. I hope now that the colleagues at Screen International will be more responsive to queries from academics like myself. I would be more than happy to checking before publishing, assuming that I would be getting a response now. It is something researchers really need and would appreciate.

© Dina Iordanova
25 November 2009

Gagma napiri/ The Other Bank (Georgia, 2009): Transnational cinema at the periphery

March 2, 2009 at 1:58 am

Talking to Georgian Tbilisi-based director George Ovashvili last week at Belgrade FEST about his gripping humanist tale Gagma napiri (The Other Bank), where it was featured as part of the competition Europe outside of Europe, led to the emergence of yet one more amazing composite picture of the subdued dynamics of transnational filmmaking ‘at the periphery’.

While this appears to be a distinctly Georgian film, in that it is set in Georgia and Abkhazia and features the specific realities of the country, it is also one that involves creative ‘above the line’ contributions from professionals that belong to no less than seven other national cinematic traditions, none of which is Western. Kazakh Sain Gabdullin co-produced the film with Ovashvili, while Kyrgyz Marat Sarulu acted as an associate producer. The adaptation of the novel was assisted by Rustam Ibragimbekov, a screenwriting veteran of Soviet cinema responsible for classics such as Beloe solnce pustyni (White Sun of the Desert, 1970), who is based in Baku, Azerbaijan today. The cinematography of the film is by Iranian Shahriar Assadi, best known for his work on Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can’t Fly (2005), the sound mixing — by Czech Ivo Heder, while Jew Israel David is listed as score recordist.

When he came to think of editing the film, Ovashvili noticed that two of his favorite films, Kim Ki-duk’s The Coast Guard (Hae anseon, 2002) and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, 2003) shared the same editor, award-winning Sun-min Kim. Clearly, a South Korean editor would be out of reach for a director based in Tbilisi in these turbulent times, be it just for the sake of the differences in language and the geographical distance. Nonetheless, George Ovashvili decided to use an e-mail address he found on the Internet and tried contacting Sun-min Kim by sending a message into cyberspace following the principle ‘if you do not try, you do not know,’ yet without expecting much. To his great surprise, however, he soon received a reply from the editor who was amazed that someone from a remote and isolated country like Georgia may know of her work and may be interested to work with her. When it transpired that the Georgian director’s budget cannot accommodate the usual fee that the editor would work for, she even agreed to reduce substantially, and worked on the project for a whole month in Tbilisi, giving it her full attention and dedication.

There is nothing surprising, really, in this configuration of transnational collaborators, especially as it is coming from a director who identifies Korean director Kim Ki-duk and Iranian Majid Majidi (alongside Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf) as his main influences. It is more and more often that major international auteurs trace their artistic roots to influences that come not from the West but from countries like Russia and Iran (take the example of acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, for example, whose early work reveals a fruitful cross-pollination between Tarkovsky and Kiarostami). The trend of this ‘peripheral’ transnational cinema is getting stronger every year. I see it all the time in various instances, yet it appears it is best to foreground it one example at a time, as I have attempted to do in this short discussion of George Ovashvili’s film.

© Dina Iordanova
2 March 2009

Severino: The Secret of Condor Pass (GDR, 1978) Claus Dobberke

January 10, 2009 at 12:34 am

This Gojko Mitic vehicle from his later period is interesting to mostly as it represents yet another good example of the transnational filmmaking that was in full swing in the area of popular cinema in the Soviet bloc countries of the period. The actor is past his prime here, and even though he does pull some of his traditional stints of horseback riding and shows off his sculpted upper body on several occasions, it is more by way of giving fans a treat in a routine effort to maintain an established star image rather than an attempt to impress new audiences. (In a way, it is a film that can be compared to the fare that Tom Cruise is involved in these days — mostly relying on past glory rather than radical reinvention.)

The film is set in Argentina and is based on a novel by Eduard Klein. A mature and balanced man, Severino is a Manazanero Indian who has been away for ten years and now comes back to his village, ridden by conflict between the locals and the settlers, all evolving around the secret of a certain Condor pass (a climb to which provides one of the nicest moments in the film, with awe-inspiring views over the highest parts of the Andes). Severino does his best to settle the disputes and manages to do so, but only to some extent; he is also involved in a love affair, but it is an added subplot that lacks sparkle and does not engage. In the overall, the film feels tired and overlong, even for its short 78 minutes. There is very little character development, almost no gripping action, and the conflicts are not persuasive nor deep enough to engage. There is surprisingly little effort to propagate the cause of proletarian struggle (which is a feature of earlier films like Osceola); the advancing age of the actor and the early decline of socialism are both felt in the film.

Thus, as I said, the most interesting aspect for me remains the information that the film brings on the matter of international socialist co-productions. The cast of the film includes the titan of Polish cinema Leon Niemczyk, as well as a host of Romanian actors such as Constantin Fugasin or Violeta Andrei, as well as many more. The film is made by DEFA in collaboration with the Romanian Buftea Studio (and it is places in the Carpathian mountains that seem to stand in for the Andes). What is particularly important, however, is that it appears there is no consistent pattern in the co-production dimension in these DEFA projects. In other cases there is usually one co-production set-up that is put in place and then exploited all over again for as long as it is possible; it is simply not economic to have a new co-production configuration put in place on a per-project basis, especially if one already has got a set-up that is working. Yet, in the case of these productions, the films are shot in a different production configuration each time — Osceola is made in co-production with Cuba and Bulgaria, this one — with Romania, The Scout — with Mongolia, Ulzana — with Russia and Romania, The Sons of Great Bear — with Bosna film. It reads like a list of socialist international cultural collaborations. What is specific here is that the driving force behind many of these projects seems to be not so much economic convenience (nor financial considerations of pulling together budgets or resources) but rather the desire to be involved in joint projects with the group of ‘brotherly’ countries. This was the underlying motive of many of the cross-border cultural initiatives of the period, and it worked. It is important not to lose it out of sight today.

© Dina Iordanova
10 January 2009

Romani actors and Invisibility: Welcome Images, Unwanted Bodies

December 7, 2008 at 11:02 am

Having seen many films featuring Romani themes and actors over the years, I cannot help observing that there are rarely actors of Romani origin that sustain more than an episodic career in cinema. In most cases, the pattern is one of appearing in a film, making a great impact, and then either coming back for one or two more installments of doing some more of the same like in the earlier film, or vanishing completely. For instance, Gordana Jovanovic, the beautiful young Romni from Aleksandar Petrovic’s classic I Even Met Happy Gypsies (1967) only appeared in his next film, It Rains in My Village, and ten years later, in a small role in Goran Paskaljevic’s human trafficking film Guardian Angel (1987). The Gypsy musicians of Slobodan Sijan’s classical Yugoslav saga Who Is Singing Out There? (1980), the brothers Miodrag and Nenad Kostic, have appeared in a handful of other Yugoslav films, always playing the same role of Gypsy musicians, a role which they also happen to play in real life as well. The unforgettable motherly Ljubica Adzovic from Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies (1989, pictured) and Black Cat, White Cat (1999), had no roles in cinema in the decade between the two films, before falling out of sight (reportedly, she was determined to only be in this particular director’s films, so much she liked him). There was a brief report somewhere that she was claiming asylum in France around 2002. Then, according to a note on the imdb, she has died in 2006.

Could it be that this is the way these Romani actors are, in line with the widely spread belief of the freewheeling Gypsy soul that cannot bear the straitjacket of commitment and permanence? Or, could it be that there are other factors at play here? I simply do not know what may have affected casting decisions in the Yugoslav films that I just referenced. However, in more recent cases, I have stumbled upon evidence that the approach to transnational casting of Romani actors often comes along with ‘strings attached’ : true to the transnational nature of their community, Roma are allowed to appear in films shot in different countries, but such appearances cannot possibly serve as the basis of immigration claims on their part. In order to secure this rule, strict measures are put in place. On the one hand, one embraces the Gypsy screen presence while, on the other, one acts to keep the actual Roma out of sight. The resulting paradoxical (and ultimately hypocritical) situation is that Roma actors are hailed as images on the screen, but only as long as they do not attempt to show up in flesh and blood.

In one case from the mid 1990s, the French authorities gave permission to Ovidiu Balan, a Romanian Roma boy (born around 1980 in my estimation), to stay in France for the duration of the shooting of Tony Gatlif’s Mondo, a sensitive drama of adolescent bonding where he played the main role. He was promptly deported to Romania as soon as shooting wrapped up. Balan has since appeared in two more films — the Canadian-Swiss tale of human trafficking Clandestins (1997) and Gatlif’s own Gadjo Dilo (1997), where he played a prematurely grown up community leader. Clearly extremely gifted, Balan has had no film appearances for more than a decade now, and, like in most other cases of actors of Romani origin, his most productive years have clearly not been taken up by film roles.

In another instance, Maria Baco, the Hungarian Roma actress who played the lead in Silvio Soldini’s Un’anima divisa in due (1993) was refused an entry visa to Italy and and effectively barred from attending the screening of the film at the Venice International Film Festival’s competition (where her partner won the award for best actor). This remains her only role up to date, and there is no information on her date of birth or place of residence and occupation today. Meanwhile, leading roles of Romani women in Hungarian cinema have been assigned to actresses of the main ethnicity, like Dorka Gryllus, who look the part.

© Dina Iordanova
7 December 2008

As usually is the case, only a few of these films are available to purchase. Here is what one can buy from Amazon.

Transnational/migrant actors: A certain case of invisibility I I

November 18, 2008 at 12:04 am

Just this past week I came across two instructive examples that illustrate the invisibility of transnational actors that I have been talking about. In these particular cases, it seems, it all comes along with a degree of voluntarily acceptance of the condition of invisibility. Let me elaborate.

The first instance was with Ingeborga Dapkunaite, the Lithuanian-born actress whom I first came to know of more than a decade ago, from Nikita Mikhalkov‘s Oscar-winning film Burned by the Sun (1994). She since emigrated and, I believe, is based in the UK, but has been taking roles internationally. I just watched her a few days ago in a Belgian production called 25 degrees in Winter a few days ago. She had the lead here, playing a Ukrainian immigrant to Belgium who gets involved with a displaced Spaniard while searching for an elusive Russian husband. A fully competent performance, precisely like the other work in roles Dapkunaite has delivered in more than ten other films where she has been given lead roles (e.g. the British Kiss of Life, 2003, where she plays opposite Peter Mullan). So I could not help being surprised when I came across the Wikipedia entry on the actress, which was not making any mention of what one would think were high profile engagements but was instead describing her exclusively as an actress engaged in ‘minor roles’ in Hollywood, e.g. as the mother of Hannibal Lechter in the ridiculous Hannibal Rising (2007) or as Brad Pitt’s wife in the utterly forgettable Seven Years in Tibet (1997). And yes, it also said she also appeared as a Bosnian refugee in a British TV drama. Clearly, the entry could be enriched substantially. Yet the very tone in which it was written was more than suggestive: whereas I would tend to describe the actress as a notable figure of transnational cinema who mostly moves within the realm of European film, this most easily accessible reference to her profile slots her immediately in the category of actors who are normally engaged in small supporting roles. Hence the resulting lesser visibility.

The other curious case I came across was the one of Max Freeman (a.k.a. Momchil Karamitev). I was on the IMDb, doing research on the Bulgarian epic film Time of Violence (1988), on which I am writing in my forthcoming book on Balkan film and history. Scrolling down the list of actors’ names, I came across the unlikely reference to Max Freeman in the role of the shepherd Goran, a strange appearance of a Western name among the long list of Bulgarian names. What was this Westerner’s name doing here? I did not remember any significant Western actors having taken part in the film. A simple click through the link supplied the answer: Max Freeman was the new name of the actor formerly known as Momchil Karamitev.

Freeman’s filmography as an actor, consisting of 20 titles in total, listed 11 Bulgarian films. He had played in ten of those during an intense five year period between 1984-1989, before emigrating in the early 1990s. In the eighteen years since 1990, the actor had apparently been in another nine films, some in Italy and some in the US. On the IMDb he is pictured with the make-up from his appearance in a singular installment of Star Trek: The Experience (2004; episode 4.04 more precisely); we also learn that he was entrusted with the role of a Russian mobster in the straight-to-video thriller Hit Me (2005). A click through to Freeman’s biography informs that he is the child of two actors, but the Bulgarian references are kept to a minimum. After all, what has been Momchil Karamitev in the past, is no more, and the new name is more like the new face given to him in the context of Star Trek.

As I am Bulgarian, I cannot help thinking of Max Freeman mostly as the son of two of Bulgaria’s greatest actors, the formidable Apostol Karamitev and the theatre diva Margarita Duparinova, people at whose talent I have had many an opportunity to marvel in my early years. Max Freeman’s biography does not include links to the father’s or the mother’s nor to his sister’s profiles on the IMDb, a place where linking to family members who are cineastes is commonplace. Well, true, linking to the names of actors from an obscure nation (even if they are great locally) would not help the actor raise from the certain degree of invisibility that seems to have afflicted him (like many others). Let’s hope that the change of name does the trick for him.

© Dina Iordanova
18 November 2008

Lamerica (Italy, 1994, Gianni Amelio)

November 15, 2008 at 12:26 am

Narrative cinema that tells stories from the transformation of the post-1989 South and Eastern Europe relies on the postcolonial framework much more than is usually acknowledged. It features plots that inevitably reveal dependencies and inequalities in today’s Europe in a way that differs substantially from the view provided by the self-congratulatory rhetoric of official politics that usually depicts the transition from state socialist economies to capitalism as smooth, linear, and universally embraced. Films like Gianni Amelio’s acclaimed Lamerica (Italy, 1994) subtly present old and new colonial-type hierarchies and political compromises that affect the lives of the ordinary people who appear as the film’s protagonists. The underlying postcolonial dynamism may not be overtly manifest in cinematic texts, yet it can easily be revealed in the process of closer analysis, especially in films like this one, featuring migrants that have been set on the move as a consequence of the radical social shifts of 1989.

Lamerica provides a snapshot of postcolonial anxieties affecting Europe in the aftermath of 1989. The protagonist, Gino (the great Enrico Lo Verso), an aspiring young businessman from the South of Italy, is sent to insolvent Albania to sort out a shady business deal. A series of unfortunate events, however, lead to a reversal in Gino’s fortunes and his visit unravels in a way that puts him on the breadline and in a position in which he cannot be distinguished from any other destitute Albanian trying to get a slice of Italy’s prosperity. A secondary but important character in the film is an elderly Italian, another Southerner, who has come to Albania during WWII as a soldier with Mussolini’s army and who has been confined to Albanian labour camps for decades. Now released, but having effectively spent the prime of his life among Albanians, he is closer to them than to his long forgotten Italian compatriots.

Lamerica reveals a situation where Italians live through circumstances that make them experience the challenges that ordinary Albanians face. While the plot line is based on accidental encounters and reversals, the narrative set up is not inconsequential; it is skillfully used by the director whose intention is to show that the invisible divisions between East and West are not as durable as they seem to be. The bonding between dispossessed Albanians and cast-out Italian Southerners charts new fault lines, suggesting that the East and West of Europe’s South are becoming compatible in a new configuration of power affiliations.

See my analysis of the film in Cinema of Flames: Balkan Film, Culture, and the Media (2001) and the essay in The Cinema of Italy (24 Frames)
(2004).

© Dina Iordanova
15 November 2008