World cinema offers views Hollywood could never hope to

Hama Bbela and Hama Bbela

World cinema, like world music, is another of those loaded, dumb terms journalists and artsy types use to group things from outside the United States. Terms like this give cinema from outside the States an outwardly alien association.

Even as someone born and raised outside the United States, I have grown up considering films made outside Hollywood as exotic and alien. Watching “world cinema” gives you the feeling filmmakers outside Hollywood are better risk takers. This is largely because Hollywood is a big-time income earning behemoth and isn’t willing to invest in risqué ideas, hence the repetitive films that have become commonplace in the past few years.

World cinema, though, has been making broad and brave steps. Filmmakers from around the world tackle complex human issues in a complex manner using their films.

My first real foray into non-Hollywood cinema probably began with my love for Kung-fu movies and my occasional dalliance with Bollywood pictures. Martial arts films were quite popular in my part of the world, Zambia. In particular, the horrible action films of Jean-Claude Van Damme and C-grade actors like Dolph Lundgren still play in many parts of Africa like they came out last week. I was sadly a huge fan of movies like Van Damme’s “Bloodsport” series and “Kickboxer.”

Then I happened upon Bruce Lee and I was hooked. It wasn’t until Yuen-Woo Ping’s epic “Snake in the Eagles’ Shadow” that I acquired a passionate love for Kung-fu pictures. Everything about them was wonderful. The bad dubbing, exaggerated action scenes and bad picture quality actually made these movies cinematic heaven for me.

I began to explore Hong Kong cinema and Chinese pictures a lot in the 90s. With the passage of time I came upon Fernando Marielles’ “City of God,” a world cinema picture that made “Scarface” and “The Godfather” look like “Bambi.” This movie encouraged me to explore other regions of the world for cinematic glory.

Very few pictures made outside Hollywood or outside Hollywood’s supervision and distribution can be found in the U.S market. Hollywood holds an iron grip on cinema around the world. Very few films can hold a candle to Hollywood’s in terms of box office draw. Few pictures from relatively large markets like Hong Kong, Britain and Germany make it on the U.S. cinematic radar. The last big outside hit was Marielles “Cidade de Dues,” which made almost $28 million worldwide. Yet if you look at the all-time top 50 earners in terms of worldwide box office, none of them are made outside the States.

This is bad because many film markets are pretty small and underfunded, so their output is relatively minimal or low quality. Yet this has given directors in other markets an opportunity to create movies that aren’t created to appeal to the ever-present profit oriented bottom line that plagues many U.S. filmmakers.

This makes possible risqué, but beautiful, movies like Guiellermo Del Torro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” or Cary Fukunagas “Sin Nombre,” movies that test the bounds of social norms in an attempt to reveal human truths people conveniently like to hide from themselves.

In the early eras of film, a lot of the best, well-funded pictures came out of France and Italy, but the advent of the first World War gave Hollywood the head start and things haven’t been the same since. Hollywood is easily one of the most powerful and influential cultural phenomenons in the world. Yet despite its dominance, there is a lot of wonderful cinema to watch from elsewhere.

Major criticisms I hear include the fact that many of these films are not made in English and we have to rely on dubbing or subtitles. I always say these are very small inconveniences compared to the advantage of traveling outside without even buying a plane ticket.

World cinema has produced some of the best directors that have not only affected their own industries, but have also come to America and changed cinema. Italy’s Sergio Leone gave us a lot of the great spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s. Japan’s Akira Kurosawa influenced everyone from George Lucas to John Sturges.

Many movies have been adapted from movies made in other parts of the world, like “Magnificent Seven,” which borrowed from Kurosawa’s “Seven Samuraji,” or, recently, Scorsese’s “The Departed” which is a remake of Hong Kong film “Internal Affairs.” Hollywood recognizes the breath of fresh air a lot of these smaller markets give to film and as such is quick to recognize and bank on the talents of filmmakers from around the world. Next time you go to your local video store, try something from a country you’re interested in and see what they have to offer.

World cinema is often a good way to explore the unexplored but deep-seated issues that plague far-flung corners of the earth. They are an opportunity to immerse one’s self in a culture, language and system of thought that’s often alien but shares a common link to humanity.

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