Chapter 8: National formations

National Formations

◉ The transformative effect of globalization has radically redefined the status of the nation as a relevant economic, political, and cultural unit instead giving currency to the terms ‘world,’ ‘global,’ and ‘transnational’ in descriptions of the current geopolitical map. Yet, we still divide the world by nations, and the nation retains its agency through institutions that facilitate its participation in the global sphere. In film studies too, studies of individual national cinemas are proliferating and expanding, policy is still informed by local film production, and national categories and labels continue to play a role in the production, exhibition, marketing, and understanding of films.

◉  What we understand under ‘national’ has changed profoundly, but it has anything but disappeared, and the understanding of national elements and their role is as important as ever

◉  Until the 1980s, the dominant model of studying cinema remained the ‘national cinema’ model, where various genres and auteurs are grouped together under the umbrella of national cinema. Tied to the aforementioned ‘ national phase’ in cinema, the idea of national cinema tends to focus on film texts produced within a particular territory, and often sees these texts as expressions of national spirit and projections of national identity

◉ After the 1980s, as the interconnected and transnational patterns of national cinemas (that have always existed) began to assert themselves more prominently, the publication of a vast body of work emerged that challenged positivist, essentialist ideas of nationhood and national identity. Emerging from different but overlapping perspectives of anti-essentialist and postcolonialist criticism these works have ‘shattered the theoretically naive and politically suspect beliefs in unified, ahistorical nations and national identities’ (Eleftheriotis, 2002: 26). Their influences on the way film studies conceived of national cinema was extensive

Small and peripheral cinemas

◉  The increasing interest in and significance of the idea of world cinema has resulted in a range of new studies of individual national and regional cinemas of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America that has substantially expanded the traditional cinematic canon

◉ In the 1990s and 2000s, the cinemas of Québec, Iceland, Scotland, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, Cuba, and Burkina Faso, and a number of new movements from Eastern Europe–Romanian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Estonian, and Turkish cinema, among others–are only a few examples that point to a growing significance of what has been termed “the cinema of small nations” (Hjort & Petrie, 2007)

◉ The concept of “small cinema” has been a rather elusive and fluid one, even as it is often employed as a clearly defined entry. While frequently invoked in the work of film scholars, it has figured “as a general intuition, rather than a clearly defined analytical tool” rarely offering a conceptual elaboration of the term and its necessarily relational nature: small is only small in relation to something (Hjort & Petrie, 2007: 3)

➞ Small has also served as an identifier for regional and ethnic cinema, minoritarian cinema, or cinema that represents and addresses a specific social group

➞ To examine the positioning of a small cinema on the global stage is therefore to examine the dialectic between political, economic, and institutional forces, and the dominant conceptual paradigms that define small cinemas and thus help shape the politics of recognition and cinematic mapping 

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