There is Always an Unseen Cinema

in 64th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Christos Skyllakos

Cinema in the non-Western world has been and continues to be far from the field of view of the audience. Likewise, for film critics. There are very few attempts by people of the arts to understand it on an equal level with American or European cinema. Cinema was certainly born in the western countries. That’s where his technique was born, and that’s how his style of narration was developed. On the basis of these values, on the basis of these theoretical and ethical references, cinema has evolved to date.

Over the years, however, the technical tools have become more accessible to many more people. Since the 1960s, filmmakers from North Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been telling their own stories because of the reduced cost of producing a film. Although never completely disengaged from Western narrative standards, they found their own national voice. Today, things are seemingly to be at least even better. Western storytelling standards continue to be the dominant ones, which should be considered inevitable since it has been established as a tradition and nothing seems to overturn it yet. Making cinema today means that one has to work according to the rules that have been produced, maintained, and continue to be institutionalized by the countries that produce statistically most of the global visual art. However national cinema finds its way and continues to exist.

In this condition, an additional problem is added. In general, worldwide cinema dealing with women’s issues, with the emancipation and liberation of women, is at an embryonic level. Although it is obvious that women in the West, and therefore their feminist perspective, are in a slightly better position, the corresponding view from non-Western and thus “non-dominant” cinema is unfortunately completely outside our reach and of our interests.

The above problems concern the people of cinema. Producers who, in the face of the growing need for democratization of women in art (as well as life), finance films with these themes, directors who find the tools most easily available to express their views, and finally the audience who, in the context of society’s overall debate on equality, are seeking to pursue such thematic projects and ideas.

A film festival can only have a similar purpose: to “educate” the public through the emergence of more unfamiliar (non-Western) cinema and more parallel (p.s. feminist) narratives. This year’s official program of the 64th Valladolid Film Festival has shown that it is trying to move in that direction. By enabling the audience to come in contact with ideas that speak about the social status of women in films from the East, Africa and Latin America, it seeks a debate both cinematic and political. Going beyond the already conventional perception of many Western directors on contemporary issues about the position of women, who look often blurred and confused with the way that understand and criticize patriarchy, the cinema we saw at Valladolid suggests another, deeper, tougher, and more political position. The feminist look of non-Western directors seems to have a greater need to frame the women’s issue within the overall society. They deny the individualization of the problems that concern women and instead analyze them within the whole of social reality: they try to find the social causes of patriarchy. These contemporary films, in the sense that they speak about our times, the 21st century, present the social dynamic of women. They regard women as social subjects who act politically, morally, and philosophically inside and against social conditions rather than as particular beings outside of them. In short, the films we have seen do not emphasize “diversity” but de facto abolish it by placing women within the unity of the modern oppressive world.

Whether we are watching Tale of three sisters (Kız Kardeşler, 2019) from Turkey, Papicha (2019) from Algeria, or The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao (A Vida Invisível, 2019) from Brazil, what all three confirm is that, regardless of the differences in aesthetics and form and the different stories they narrate, the global social situation is just awful to any non-dominant human being. Without idealizing sexuality as a key factor in differentiation, but without debunking it, without viewing the woman as a passive being who simply reacts to patriarchal behaviors but without concealing such aspects, without completely isolating the woman of society and yet without regarding them as “the same” with men, these films establish the woman as an equal creator of social life. The woman has equal footing in the struggle to achieve her equality, not because she is simply banned but because it is only logical to try and succeed. These films do not victimize her but put her on its true social basis. Oppressed but socially active. Not opposed to man, but opposed to the political domination of the social-political system that sustains patriarchy.

The colonial and patriarchal past of cinema remains of course dominant, but the voices of the most easily radicalized peoples of the non-Western world are at the same time opposed to the above: they are creating, in that sense, new narratives and stories. Festivals must embrace them. At the same time, it should not be allowed to manipulate them or absorb them painlessly for the system streams. Do not convert them to western-cinema-type movies but in a non-western casing. The Valladolid Festival, given its emphasis on the screening of such films, also shows the potential that exists for such a cinema.

Christos Skyllakos