« Oppositional Gazes » Independent Cinema in the Americas in the XXIst Century

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Université Toulouse Jean-Jaurès

Socio/Criticism XXXII-2

Thematic Issue : « Oppositional Gazes »

Independent Cinema in the Americas in the XXIst Century

 

Coordination : Michèle Soriano (CEIIBA), Cristelle Maury (CAS), Laurence Mullaly (ICD), Émilie Cheyroux (CAS).

           

The goal of this issue of Socio/Criticism is to bring together the studies on independent cinemas produced and directed in the Americas, focusing on the way they oppose mainstream cinema. When she formulated the notion of “oppositional gaze,” bell hooks first placed herself from the perspective of reception and then put the productions of the minorities into the foreground (Sibertin-Blanc). In turn, we propose to examine the point of view of minorities, be they filmmakers or all those who, one way or another, participate in the creation, direction, production or distribution of films within the independent circuit.

Independent cinema corresponds to different realities in the Americas. The term can apply to a wide range of films that are difficult to define in that they do not necessarily have many semantic, aesthetic or political elements in common. It is precisely the diversity of the oppositional gazes that they offer that we will try to identify and explore.

In North America, independent cinema is seen as a large and very diversified field, an informal rather than an organized movement, defined primarily by its opposition to Hollywood cinema that constitutes a point of reference (Hurault-Paupe and Murillo, 3). As an oppositional form, it is thus a “privileged” area of expression for minorities: the directors and producers from ethnic and gender minorities “are often given little choice but to operate in the independent sector, either because they seek to go beyond the confines usually permitted in the mainstream or because it is the only place where any options are open” (King, 2004, 223). This roughly echoes the difficulties faced in the characterization of the independent cinemas of Latin America and of the Caribbean, that we will call Abya Yala[1] or Améfricaladina (González, Viveros Vigoya 2020) from now on. The cultural realities expressed by these cinemas are relegated to the margins of the mainstream production, distribution and exhibition circuits that are largely dominated by a double North American and European hegemony (Schroeder Rodriguez).

These strategies, that are at the margins of hegemonic practices, materialize in the creation of production companies especially set up for these cinemas, and that rely on intersectional feminist alliances. Film festivals are privileged spaces for the circulation of these films: as “alternative sites” that contribute to the “production, distribution, and exhibition” of film (Wong), they are essential links in the structuring of autonomy of marginalized cinemas.

Our intention is to shed light on and put in perspective the “oppositional gazes” in the independent cinemas of the Americas in the 21st century, and to replace “the margins at the center” (hooks 1984) in order to observe the possible ways to go beyond the frameworks of intelligibility imposed by the hegemonic centers of production and invent new ways to see, hear, create, produce and distribute representations that revisit past and present history, in order to occupy a central place in the “distributions of the sensible” (Rancière).

The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements by their abrupt emergence, contributed to (re)place in the spotlight the questions linked to the representation of race, gender and sexualities, that have been addressed since the 1970s, starting with cultural studies (Hall, Burch) and feminist studies (Mulvey, de Lauretis, hooks, Sellier). With the recollection of her personal memories voiced by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize winner, came the recognition of the collective past and of the harms suffered due to the slave trade, colonization and the resulting plundering of resources. At the same time, it also led to expressions of solidarity, and to rallying efforts across the Americas and around the world.

The claims made by these movements, some of which have received worldwide media coverage due to the global impact of the US cultural industries, echo the anti-racist, feminist and queer struggles in the countries of Abya Yala or Améfricaladina. They have undergone a remarkable intensification in the 21st century. However, the traces of these struggles could be seen in films long before the last few decades (Viveros Vigoya 2004, Mullaly and Soriano). Independent productions refract these political struggles from the Ni Una Menos movement, that started in Argentina and that have spread to Western feminist struggles, to the movement of the Mapuche women in Chile, to the Actoras de cambio Collective in Guatemala, as well as to the performances and graffiti of the Mujeres creando in Bolivia, and the drag queen and trans resistance (or Tansloca) in Puerto Rico (La Fountain-Stokes): the audiovisual space “resonates and shines brightly” with the ch’ixi (Rivera Cusicanqui).

In this issue of Socio/criticism, we would like to analyze the impact of the changes within independent cinema that came with the spectacular resonance of the politics of representation in the media, including the politics of the gaze that cinema embraced since its inception (Frodon). The critical perspectives offered by postcolonial, decolonial, subaltern and queer studies, that have been renewing the hermeneutical framework of film studies, allow us to understand the new directions taken by contemporary independent cinema, which contribute through artistic, performative and political means to alter the hegemonic narratives.

Therefore, we will both ponder on the production of film discourses that reflect on intersectional relations, and on the production of critical discourses that accompany these productions, as long as the oppositional gazes promoted by these movements can also contribute to fertile re-interpretations of productions that were made prior to them.

 

Possible lines of inquiry:

 

1) If the porosity between documentary and fiction films is one of the characteristics of certain recent independent films – such as Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Chloé Zhao, 2015), Give me Liberty (Kirill Mikhanovsky, 2019), Kuessipan (Myriam Verreault and Naomi Fontaine, 2019) or Nudo Mixteco (Ángeles Cruz, 2021) – the political hybridity, already present in the avant-garde and revolutionary cinemas of the 1970s, undoubtedly deserves to be called into question again because of the emotions that it elicits and the modes of production that it adopts.

 

2) Films as means of making unheard voices heard

Besides mapping out the strategies of counter visuality, this issue of Socio/Criticism will also explore the acoustic universe and the representation of silence, the “point of hearing”, the potential of sound as a territory of freedom, free from categorization and not entirely subjected to the codes and conventions of dominant ideologies. Sound has allowed Latin American filmmakers, for example, to consciously claim cinema as a technology of gender. How does independent cinema at large make use of the soundtrack? Concerning more specifically the role of music, does the score create “assimilating identifications” (Kassabian 2), based on a sort of acculturation that attaches little importance to the race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender of the “perceivers” as Kassabian argued about mainstream Hollywood films? Or, on the contrary, does it offer “a more diffused set of identifications for perceivers” (85)? One can also think about the directors from racial, sexual, LGBTQ minorities (“New Queer cinema” of the 1990s, Todd Haynes, Chloe Zhao, Ava DuVernay…).

 

3) Practices and strategies toward the political

As Janet Staiger suggested, independent cinema can not only be considered “with criteria that are purely institutional and economic” (Hurault-Paupe and Murillo 4), but also as a “mode of film practice”. The four defining criteria that she offers can be used to understand how independent films build an oppositional gaze: Does it entail using the experimentation of avant-garde cinema that, for example, utilize dialogue for “purposes other than advancement of a plot”? Does it mean staging “‘quirky’ or odd characters”, or laying “emphasis on certain methods of creating verisimilitude”? Resorting to “ambiguity and intertextuality in narrative and narration”?  Or relying on “viewing procedures seek[ing] an emotional and for the most part intellectual engagement with the film”? (Staiger 23)

 

4) Subverting mainstream cinema or commodifying opposition

We’d also like to explore the porosity between dominant and independent cinema, which is not only visible at the production and distribution levels through the emergence of the “Indiewood” sector for the United States, but also at the narrative and formal levels. It could thus be interesting to ponder over the way in which the strategies of dominant cinema are being incorporated, re-used and subverted in all forms of independent cinema, by feminist and racialized filmmakers who, in the wake of what Claire Johnston, Laura Mulvey, Christine Gledhill and Teresa de Lauretis have been contributing to creating a counter-cinema whose aim is to go beyond the oppositions between independent cinema and mainstream cinema, avant-garde cinema and narrative cinema, in order to create a “text of pleasure” (Roland Barthes). We can draw our inspiration from the notion of “guerrilla cinema” established by de Lauretis about feminist cinema. Feminist cinema describes “a new conception of woman’s cinema that cuts across the boundaries of independent and mainstream, avant-garde and narrative cinema – one that does not always privilege avant-garde and independent production” (Chaudhuri, 23). Such a definition provides a starting point to look at the presence of the codes of traditional narrative cinema within independent productions.

We will also explore the subversive potential of certain independent productions that pick up the codes of mainstream cinema, especially the codes of classical genres, in order to build an oppositional gaze. Finally, we’d like to interrogate the transgressive impact of the new “Indiewood” (King, 2009) configuration, whose main feature is a growing convergence between the typical practices of independent cinema in a “softened or watered-down” form (King, 2009, 3), and the industrial practices that correspond more to those of the major studios. One can think of Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes 2002), Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee 2006), Her (Spike Jonze 2013), Harriet (Kasi Lemmons 2019), Moonlight (Barry Jenkins 2016) or The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion 2021) for example. Can we still talk about an oppositional gaze, or does this phenomenon reflect its commodification? Does it mark a negotiation between the two systems?

 

Timeline for proposals:

-               Submission of proposal abstracts of approximately 800 words, including a description of the chosen methodological approach, explaining in which axis the article fits, and a bibliography: November 15, 2022

-               Complete articles: April 15, 2023

-               Final versions of the texts: September 15, 2023

-               Publication: December 2023.

Proposals with a bio-bibliography are to be sent to michele.soriano@univ-tlse2.fr, lmullaly99@gmail.com, cristelle.maury@univ-tlse2.fr and emilie.cheyroux@univ-jfc.fr by December 15, 2022.

 

Bibliographie

Burch, Noël. (2007). De la beauté des latrines : Pour réhabiliter le sens au cinéma et ailleurs, Paris, L’Harmattan.

Burch, Noël et Geneviève Sellier. (2009). Le cinéma au prisme des rapports de sexe, Paris, Vrin.

Chaudhuri, Shohini (2006). Feminist Film Theorists: Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed, Routledge.

de Lauretis, Teresa. (1984). Alice doesn’t, Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

de Lauretis, Teresa. (1987). “Strategies of Coherence: Narrative Cinema, Feminist Poetics, and Yvonne Rainer”, Technologies of Gender, Indiana University Press.

de Lauretis, Teresa. (1990). “Guerrilla in the Midst: Women’s Cinema in the 1980s”, Screen n°31,p. 6-25. 

Frodon, Jean-Michel. (2021). Le cinéma à l’épreuve du divers. Politiques du regard, Paris, CNRS éditions, 2021.

Gledhill, Christine. (1984). “Developments in Feminist Film Criticism”, inMary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp and Linda Williams (dir.), Re-vision. Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, AFI, p. 18-45. 

González, Lélia, “A categoría político-cultural de amefricanidade”, en Tempo Brasileiro, n.º 92 y 93: págs. 69-82. Río de Janeiro, enero a junio de 1988.

Hall, Stuart, & Jessica Evans, Sean Nixon (dir.). (2013). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices,(2d ed.) Los Angeles, CA, Sage Publications Ltd.

hooks, bell. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Boston MA, South End Press. 

hooks, bell. (1992). “The Oppositional Gaze. Black Female Spectators”, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston MA, South End Press, p. 115-131.

Hurault-Paupe, Anne et Céline Murillo. (2013). « Et le cinéma indépendant ? », Revue française d’études américaines, vol. 2, n° 136, p. 3-14.

Kassabian, Anahid. (2001). Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Music, New York: Routledge.


King, Geoff. (2004). American Independent Cinema, London, I.B. Tauris.

King Geoff. (2009). Indiewood USA…Where Hollywood Meets Independent Cinema, London, I.B. Tauris.

Kratje, J. (2019). “Géneros inestables: de miradas, silencios y detenciones, Entrevista con Laura Mulvey”, Imagofagia, n° 20,  252–262.

https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=7294297

La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. (2021). Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press. 

León, Christian. (2012). “Imagen, medios y telecolonialidad: hacia una crítica decolonial de los estudios visuales”, Aisthesis No 51, p. 109-123.

http://revistaaisthesis.uc.cl/index.php/RAIT/article/view/3078/2930

Mullaly, Laurence et Soriano, Michèle. (2014). De cierta manera. Cine y género en América latina, Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. Sexualité et genre : fiction et réalité.

Mulvey, Laura. (1975). “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Screen Vol. 16 n°3, p. 6-18.

Rancière, Jacques. (2000). Le partage du sensible. Esthétique et politique,La Fabrique Éditions, 2000.

Rivera Cusicanqui, Silvia. (2018). Un mundo ch'ixi es posible. Ensayos desde un presente en crisis, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Tinta Limón.

Schroeder Rodríguez, Paul A. (2020). Una historia comparada del cine latinoamericano. Madrid, Iberoamericana Vervuert.

Sellier, Geneviève. (2005). La Nouvelle Vague, un cinéma au masculin singulier, Paris, CNRS éditions.

Sellier, Geneviève. (2009). « Gender studies et études filmiques : avancées et résistances françaises », Diogène, vol. 225, no. 1,  p. 126-138.

Sibertin-Blanc, Guillaume. (2009). « Deleuze et les minorités : quelle « politique » ? », Cités, vol. 40, no. 4, p. 39-57.

Staiger, Janet. (2012). « Independent of What ? Sorting Out Differences From Hollywood », in Geoff King, Claire Molloy et Yannis Tzioumakis (dir.), American Independent Cinema: Indie, Indiewood and Beyond, Londres & New York, Routledge, p. 15-27.

Viveros Vigoya, Mara. (2004). « Jusqu'à un certain point, ou la spécificité de la domination masculine en Amérique latine », Mouvements, vol. 31, no. 1, p. 56-63.

Viveros Vigoya, Mara. (2020)« Los colores del antirracismo (en Améfrica Ladina) », Sexualidad, Salud y Sociedad. Revista latinoamericana n°36 - dec. 2020,  p.19-34. [https://www.e-publicacoes.uerj.br/index.php/SexualidadSaludySociedad/iss...

Wong, Cindy H. (2011). Film Festivals : Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

 




[1] Term of the Cuna language, native people from Colombia, which means "land that blooms", "ripe land", "living land". The native peoples of these latitudes adopted it in a political approach to designate their territory, in opposition to the term "Latin America", which was attributed by the colonizers.