Issue 4/2010 - Net section

Digital film as the legacy of the »Third Cinema«?

On the possibilities of an imperfect postcolonial cinema

Naoko Kaltschmidt

The question of cinema’s future in the light of evolving digital technologies was on the agenda even before James Cameron’s latest undertaking, the over- estimated 3D-spectacle »Avatar« (2009), hit the screens. A number of key defining parameters of the film industry have been in flux for several years already, both in terms of film as a material and data-storage medium and with reference to the conditions shaping production, distribution and reception. Changed working conditions give rise to new freedoms, such as the possibility of working with a much smaller crew, which in turn makes it possible to be involved in all aspects of creating a film, entirely in keeping with the notion of auteur film-making. This trend can be identified in various aspects of the kind of contemporary cinematography referred to as world cinema, which is causing a stir right now thanks to filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul or Brillante Mendoza.

This summer’s film series »Traces of a Third Cinema«, which focussed on the legacy of this historical movement and took place mainly in Berlin’s Zeughaus cinema, focused in particular on looking back to historical precursors that are relevant to this newly emerging cinema in various different respects. The radical impetus of these films reflected the 1968 revolts and advocated decolonisation. The underlying programmatic thrust was aptly reflected in some manifestos drawn up by directors from Latin America, primarily agitating against the »Western« influences shaping commercial cinema, whilst favouring a set of instruments that would allow directors to depict real circumstances independently and objectively, and at the same time to liberate audiences from their immaturity and passivity. Whilst this thoroughly polemic counter-position often proved difficult to actually put into practice, even today this school of thought still adopts a remarkably open stance in terms of (production) aesthetics (and this must in turn also be viewed as pointing up the contrast with comparatively rigid, ponderous Hollywood-style big-budget productions): »Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in quality or technique. It can be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle. Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in predetermined taste, and much less in ›good taste‹«.2 Nikolaus Perneczky, one of the curators of the series, also speculates that the future of this new cinema, also dubbed »hybrid« cinema,3 will not »unfold on celluloid, but instead in the borderless realm of the digital moving image«4.

According to this interpretation, the current boom in cinema from the Philippines stems in no small part from the democratisation of digital technology: as was previously the case for the historic Third Cinema movement, this recent cinematic creative phase has also assumed a host of different shapes and hues although the initial points of departure were closely related. Films by Khavn De La Cruz and Lav Diaz for example could scarcely be more different in formal terms. Whereas Lav Diaz, who is viewed as a mentor by younger generations of filmmakers, works with extended takes in his - often very long - films (Diaz himself teases out the comparison with a painting), Khavn, who is also the director of the festival for digital film, founded in 2002,5 goes for an experimental, striking and at times unsophisticated style: he chooses not to use the possibilities of digital image processing in the spirit of hyperrealistic illusionism but instead wallows in the idiosyncrasies of error stemming from technology. These seemingly so disparate positions are linked by the way in which they grapple with (and also to a large extent revise) the history and present of their own nation.
The focus of the »China Villager Documentary Project«6, produced for the first time in 2005, is on giving the rural populace their own voice, whilst using direct observation to home in on the changes in everyday life in the wake of the demise of the commune system. Ten amateur filmmakers from various provinces were picked out, equipped with digital cameras and given an opportunity – after courses in digital film techniques – to make their own films, sometimes bearing witness to the world of work, sometimes testifying to their own private impressions. Wang Wei’s pieces for example also articulate an explicit critique of the dominant social conditions. The fact that these films are available online is not to be sneezed at when it comes to boosting broad public awareness of this significant illustrative material over and above screenings in the usual festival circuits – with a few exceptions, most of the aforementioned films will not be distributed through conventional channels. In the case of Nollywood too, the Nigerian video film industry generally associated with trashy movies, digital distribution possibilities play a central part in the great success enjoyed by these films. Tunde Kelani, who has been a committed filmmaker since the1970s, describes himself as an »advocate of digital filmmaking«, 7 precisely because it facilitates independent work in many respects and can ultimately also be viewed as one facet of decolonisation.

Spuren eines Dritten Kinos (Traces of a Third Cinema), June 2010, Zeughauskino Berlin


Translated by Helen Ferguson


1 C.f. S. Julio García Espinosa, »Por un cine imperfecto« (For an Imperfect Cinema), 1969; Glauber Rocha, »Eztetyka da fome« (Aesthetic of Hunger), 1965; Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, »Hacia un tercer cine« (For a Third Cinema), 1969.
2 Julio García Espinosa, For an Imperfect Cinema [1969], in: »Jump Cut«, Nr. 20, Berkeley 1979, p. 26,
3 C.f. Robert Stam, Beyond Third Cinema. The Aesthetics of Hybridity, in: Anthony Guneratne, Wimal Dissanayake (eds.), »Rethinking Third Cinema«. New York 2003, pp. 31–48.
4 Nikolaus Perneczky, Revolutionen aus dem Off, in: »Perspektiven«, Nr. 9. Vienna 2009,
5 .MOV International Digital Film Festival, see also the programme announcement »Digital Dekalogo 10x10«: On contemporary Philippine cinema, see also:
7 Kelani in a BFI interview, programme brochure, loc cit.