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Capturing Hearts and Minds with Political Cinema

The readings on auteurs Ousmane Sembene and Tomas Guitterez Alea illustrate that art validates culture in global society, and film becomes a way to express sovereignty. Perhaps, because of this, Sembene is able to claim his movies have “more followers than the political parties and the Catholic and Moslem religions combined.”  To a population who can’t read, and even to one that can, film becomes a way to form a national or ethnic identity and build a past, because it casts this vision on the screen in plain sight for the eyes to digest.

As “third world” countries emerge into “developing” nations or struggle with the trials of neocolonialism, they begin to rebuild a lost history through cinema. These films also serve as reminders of the atrocities committed. In the cases of Cuba and Senegal, we see how regional film can come to represent a whole continent. In Alea’s case, he is making films specifically for the whole of Latin America, for a “continent that fights for liberation”, while Sembene seeks to demonstrate a “well-disciplined ethnic group in which everyone saw himself only as an integral part of the whole.” And while Sembene underplays the effect that art can have on society, the reaction to his films in Senegal shows that knowledge is power, and the ideology a film can impart can be just as powerful as a doctrine such as the Communist Manifesto.


The works of these artists also overturn stereotypes, such as caricatures of dancing Africans or notions of a “backward” culture, which can be easily discredited owing to the progressive view toward women described by Osumane. In addition, these films provide a place to expose the wrongdoings of colonialism, the repercussions of neocolonialism, and a critique of those elements of the past that still remain in the present. In Alea’s case, this is the continuation of bureaucracy left over from the Batista government.  Through the juxtaposition of his films, he exposes the heartlessness of colonialism and the heart of the revolutionary movement. Both artists attempt to reconstruct the past, analyze the present, and speculate about the future. By showing how “socio-historic forces” shape “human feelings,” as Alea claims, they take the political film to a level their Russian predecessors weren’t able to by capturing the people’s hearts and minds through psychology and sociology. Both artists are providing the audience with the ammunition and asking them to pull the trigger.

~ by Jamie Parganos on May 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “Capturing Hearts and Minds with Political Cinema”

  1. While I agree completely with most of this analysis, and the importance of film, or any other artistic process, in fighting oppression, I think it is important to remember that these two men were dealing with very different political situations. Alea, at least later on was in a country with had already had a successful revolution and whose challenge was no longer fighting oppression, but beginning to build a better society.There was still the challenge of combating American Imperialism, but this was of secondary importance to the above-mentioned While much of Africa had already been granted independence by the sixties, The power of the French and other European nations was still very much present, as Sembene alludes to. The French still had a huge amount of censorship power. Therefore, I think the challenge in Analyzing these filmmakers is examining the ways in which different autures can use their own styles to fight in different situations, as well as ( as you did quite well) noting the importance of film in fighting oppression especially among people who are not able to access more traditional ways ( illiteracy, for instance would stop people from reading the Communist manifesto, but not from seeing a Sembene film.)

  2. I agree that I should have included more information about what was specific to their situation

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