Working from the outside in, if ‘World Cinema’ denotes the periphery containing all films made on this planet, then perhaps it is a perfunctory categorisation rendered so by its omnitude. It suggests a tight-knit patchwork of national cinemas covering the planet, when the reality is rather more ragged.
As we have already seen, American, African and Indian cinemas are pluralities, demanding careful consideration. World cinemas, plural, also recognises multiple variations subject to constant fluctuation between rigidity, dissolution and vaporisation. At one extreme appears the frozen hardcore of a seemingly rigid, introverted, centripetal cinema that is fostered by government funding, while at the other flicker inexpensive, untethered audio-visual items adrift on the Internet for anyone to click on. Both may represent analytically capable communities that are constantly rethinking collective and individual identity and are keen to engage in processes of reinvention, however, which include the realisation of representative cinemas that are cognisant of their social, polticial, economic and aesthetic impact and implications.
These questions of plurality appear all over the globe and therefore popped up in many of the abstracts that were submitted for The Routledge Companion to World Cinema. One of the most intriguing, which has resulted in one of the most exciting chapters, was that submitted by Dunja Fehimović.
Dunja recently completed her AHRC-funded PhD at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge and is now Lecturer at the University of Newcastle. Her doctoral project focused on the manifestations and manipulations of national identity in contemporary Cuban film and her co-authored article ‘Cuba’s Cinematic Elan Vital: Cubanidad and Cubanía as Citizenship and Sentiment’ was recently published in The Journal of Latin American Culture Studies. Her chapter entitled ‘Zombie Nation: Monstrous Identities in Three Cuban Films’ will appear in the edited volume Cuban Cinema Inside Out: New Perspectives on Contemporary Production (2017). She works on Caribbean and Latin American film as well as on music in Cuba.
Here’s that abstract.
Connected in ‘Another Way’: Repetition, Difference and Identity in Caribbean Cinema, Past and Present
What is the Caribbean? What is Caribbean cinema? Definitions range from the geographical (the islands found in the Caribbean basin), the linguistic (islands on which certain créole languages are spoken) to the historical and socio-economic (the shared experiences of colonisation and the plantation system). Thus, concepts of Caribbean cinema also vary in ways that also exclude or include diasporic productions and the cinema of exile. Following Benítez Rojo’s interpretation of the Caribbean through the ideas of repetition and difference inherent to Chaos theory (The Repeating Island, 1992), this chapter will not provide answers to these questions, but rather seek to draw out similarities and differences between the historical development of cinema in the region. It will focus on a sample of Caribbean countries with the strongest traditions of filmmaking, including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Cuba. Whilst referring to valuable existing work, such as Silou (1991), Cham (1992) and Warner (2000), this approach will nevertheless seek to plug gaps inevitably formed by the language-based focus or retrograde status of such material.
In order to remap Caribbean cinema for the 21st century, this chapter will provide a historical overview recounting the arrival of cinema to the islands at the turn of the 20th century and outline the Caribbean’s role as exotic backdrop for foreign cinema. Following this, the emergence of indigenous film will be aligned with local political developments such as the independence struggles of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 through case studies of key films such as Memorias del subdesarrollo (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968, Cuba), The Harder They Come (Perry Henzel, 1972, Jamaica), and Rue cases nègres (Euzhan Palcy, 1983, Martinique), which will also enable discussion of the development of filmmaking infrastructure, funding and legal frameworks in the Caribbean.
The chapter concludes with a consideration of the pragmatic importance and theoretical implications of international co-productions and regional cooperation, inflected by Chris Bongie’s (1998) discussion of the island as a trope of identity that is paradoxically both self-contained and whole, and fragmented and relational at the same time. In so doing, the significance of the Caribbean film industry and its products will be shown firstly to pre-figure and subsequently, to embody the problematics of identity associated with globalisation and the increasingly transnational field of filmmaking.