Cultural Cannibalism: BRFF Talk

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At the beginning of March I gave a talk at the 2013 Bristol Radical Film Festival entitled “Dialectical Films and the Case for Cultural Cannibalism”. The aim of the talk was to outline some of the film theory that has influenced the production process of Dialectical Films, and to state why and how this particular way of making films should be practiced today. In hindsight, the talk can be broken into three sections: 1. influences. 2. cannibalism 3. cannibal practice within a cultural landscape drowning in neo-liberal hyperstimulus.

In such a short talk I had time to highlight three influences, all of them from the tradition of New Latin American Cinema that emerged around the late 1960’s to early 70’s, and which has been documented by numerous writers and filmmakers (one document that immediately springs to mind is Michael Chanan’s film, made for Channel 4 in the 1980’s: While all of them broadly fall under the category “Third Cinema”, in preparing for the talk I began to see how they differ, and which one, it turned out, had ‘most’ influenced my film making practice. Thinking about it, they form something of a trajectory, from initial revolutionary influence, to refinement, until finally the material conditions in which I am situated govern my choice of method insofar as I have to go with what is realistically ‘do-able’ at the time.

To elaborate, Solanas and Getino’s original outlining of Third Cinema provided the spark, but I was not a film maker. Julio Garcia Espinosa’s “For an Imperfect Cinema” warned me of the stalling ideology behind “perfection” and the need to overcome it via the production of film through any means, but I still had no camera, or indeed any means whatsoever. Finally, the films of Cuban director, Santiago Alvarez, showed me how the means are to be found in the dearth of images that surround us in our everyday lives. Here, it seems, is some sort of rudimentary cartography of influence. What this map doesn’t include is the people who gave me the tools to draw with in the first pace. To map that would require a completely separate blog post.

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Such a cartography is further undermined by the omission of creeping cannibalism. Cannibalism is, in hindsight, the connecting web between all three points on the map. It is the theory that backs up Alvarez’s practice, allowing me to know why I am doing what it is that I’m doing. This is particularly convenient since Alvarez himself barely wrote anything, so I’ve identified him as a cannibal (or at least, the most cannibalistic of the three). Broadly speaking, cannibalism is the practice of the metaphorical consumption of the culture of the coloniser for the sake of using at as a weapon to destroy him. In an act of consumption, processing and regurgitation the cannibal consciously consumes his food before using it for his own specific purpose. This idea contains within it the revolutionary spark of Solanas and Getino, the consciousness of ideology and material conditions espoused by Garcia Espinosa, and finally, the use (or mis-use) of found materials that litter the contemporary media landscape, as practiced by Alvarez.

The best thing about this last part is that the wealth of, and access to, found materials now far exceeds that of Alvarez’s time. If the project of Espinosa was to extend the capability of making films to everyone, then this has never been more possible, and if the necessity of a cinema that resists and antagonises capital as ever been so blatant, it is now. In this situation, however, we find ourselves bombarded with a neo-liberal hyperstimulus that can only confuse us into apathy and malpractice. At best we have a tonne of cameras and no theory. Meanwhile the education system is being attacked by rich people that hate you. Cannibalism, with it’s tendency toward revolution, it’s awareness of the situation, and it’s selective consumption, offers a way to navigate the neo-liberal hyperstimulus, producing work that both derives from and seeks to destroy it. In my situation the foreign coloniser is nothing more than the upper class, who pedal their ideology through their mass media. The phrase ‘cultural colonisation’ still applies. Indeed, it’s operation can be seen as embodied by the increasing application of the phrase ‘cultural capital’ to objects of cultural production.

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To get a brief example of the effects of cultural colonisation, ask film students why it is they’re doing what they’re doing. Out of all the films you could make, why are you making a film about a man who gets stabbed in the street? Why have you chosen this time-lapse? Why this angle? What’s the point of this colour-grading? If they don’t know the answers then most likely they are just repeating what they have seen elsewhere, consumed passively, reproduced uncritically. This can only serve to perpetuate the status quo. At best, as Solanas and Getino said, cultural producers become the ‘activist’ or ‘left-wing’ arm of capital, helping to pedal it through the creation of the myth that capital offers an alternative.

The question to focus on is this: how do we consciously and critically navigate the deluge of neoliberal hyperstimulus in order to create films that are both politically and aesthetically radical, and which have mass appeal? The supposed gap between criticism and creativity, between theory and practice, is bridged by cannibalism, both in its conscious consumption of material, as well as the fact that we are now surrounded by food. Indeed, food is inescapable. The answer to the question therefore begins with cannibalism – a healthy diet of suspicion and   savage creativity.

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