From the Vault: National Cinema

The AFI Film Festival has officially wrapped up after a week full of screenings.

Their film festival included films from all around the world, showcasing international films in world cinema. These film festivals are opportunities for film lovers to catch up on films from diverse countries in a forum that allows audiences to see films that could potentially never even see a release in the United States. The participating films and countries for this year included Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey), Alps (2011, Greece), The Forgiveness of Blood (2011, Albania), among others.

These films are all part of their respective nations, and national cinema becomes a complicated term to discuss when explored in depth. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011, Japan) and Kinyarwanda (2011, Rwanda) are perfect examples of this complication. The films both won the World Cinema award, even though their filmmakers are both American. The films are still considered to be Japanese and Rwandese, respectively, because of their origin of finance.

These films, and national cinema in general, play a significant role in globalization, and cinema itself provides us a look into other cultures. These films teach us about their cultures and share their identity with the rest of the world. This is particularly important with countries such as Armenia, which are not major tourist destinations in comparison to other countries.

In the case of national cinema, funding and financial support from governmental institutions help establish such film culture. The Armenian State Committee of Cinema helped shape our identity in the early years of Armenian cinema, providing us with exceptional films and filmmakers, but since then, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain governmental funding.

The current state of the industry seems to be focusing on television shows rather than motion pictures. This shift is undoubtedly because of production costs; television shows are being produced for little or no money, allowing a separate forum for exploring engaging stories.

The notion, however, that a feature film will be expensive to produce is false. Iran’s film that participated at the AFI Film Festival was, A Separation (2011, Iran). The film was produced for $500,000 (Kinyarwanda was produced for a mere $400,000) and was one of the most talked about films of the festival. The film is about real people in real situations, exploring Iranian culture and identity through melodrama. So, what’s the real reason that our nation never participates with a film? If a film can be produced with such small budgets, where are our stories that we can share with the rest of the world?

The filmmakers of our nation have spread across the world and many of them are perfecting their craft in other nations. The filmmakers still working in our country are then faced with difficulties in financing the projects. That’s precisely where governmental funding should kick in, decreeing a fixed amount of finances to various filmmakers. In a digital world, production costs drop dramatically, and instead of making one or two major films, we can now afford to produce five or six (or more) films on small budgets and through a digital workflow.

These organizations can further advance our film culture and allow its filmmakers to become part of international cinema. In the same manner that films from decades ago explored the cultural changes at the same, the cinema of the present can explore our rapidly evolving climate and emphasize individual potential.

If we can shift our focus from television back to cinema and take our creativity and ingenuity to motion pictures, we can establish an international presence in world cinema.