Featured Authors: Shekhar Deshpande and Meta Mazaj

Shekhar Deshpande and Meta Mazaj are our latest Routledge Featured Authors. Read our interview to discover more about their recent book,  World Cinema: A Critical Introduction.

"We wanted to convey this excitement and experience beyond our own classrooms, but also come up with a system that captures the richness, diversity, and dynamics of world cinema. "

Shekhar Deshpande is Professor and Founding Chair of Media and Communication Department at Arcadia University, where he held Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker Endowed Chair from 2005-2008. His writings have appeared in Senses of Cinema, Studies in European Cinema, Film International, Seminar and Widescreen. He is the author of the forthcoming Anthology Film and World Cinema.

Meta Mazaj is a Senior Lecturer in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in Cineaste, Studies in Eastern European Cinema, and Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination. She is the author of National and Cynicism in the Post 1990s Balkan Cinema(2008), and co-editor, with Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, of Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings (2010).

World Cinema: A Critical Introduction is a comprehensive yet accessible guide to film industries across the globe. From the 1980s onwards, new technologies and increased globalization have radically altered the landscape in which films are distributed and exhibited. Films are made from the large-scale industries of India, Hollywood, and Asia, to the small productions in Bhutan and Morocco. They are seen in multiplexes, palatial art cinemas in Cannes, traveling theatres in rural India, and on millions of hand-held mobile screens.

Authors Deshpande and Mazaj have developed a method of charting this new world cinema that makes room for divergent perspectives, traditions, and positions, while also revealing their interconnectedness and relationships of meaning. In doing so, they bring together a broad range of issues and examples—theoretical concepts, viewing and production practices, film festivals, large industries such as Nollywood and Bollywood, and smaller and emerging film cultures—into a systemic yet flexible map of world cinema.

The multi-layered approach of this book aims to do justice to the depth, dynamism, and complexity of the phenomenon of world cinema. For students looking to films outside of their immediate context, this book offers a blueprint that will enable them to transform a casual encounter with a film into a systematic inquiry into world cinema.

As scholars who come from outside of the US but have studied and taught world cinema mostly in the US, we developed an instant appreciation of the incredible richness and diversity of filmmaking practices and ways of seeing films around the world. But we were also struck by how little of this richness gets any kind of visibility and recognition. Most of the world is exposed to American cinema, even though Hollywood is only a small fraction of worldwide production. On the other hand, while cinemas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America constitute the majority of film production, we see a mere one percent of that in our theaters, stores, or other networks. In a global world, we often assume open and fluid channels of communication, so one of the main objectives of the book is not just to emphasize the importance of wider exposure, but also to understand the uneven nature of the global exchange.

We also realized that across cultures and over our own life-time, everything about cinema has changed, from the way we make and watch them films, to the way we think about them. While the idea of “world cinema” is as old as cinema itself, and films have always circulated across borders, we observed a radical transformation since the 1980s. The global networks of production, distribution, and exhibition, as well as the new technologies drastically altered the landscape in which films are made, seen, and circulate. These changes meant that many of the frameworks that have been foundational to understanding world cinema, from the centrality of Hollywood, the dominance of national cinema model, the distinctions between popular cinemas and art cinema, the place of Third World cinema, had to be completely reconsidered and reoriented. We wanted to create a better correspondence between academic discourses and the changing conditions around us.

Most importantly, having taught various courses on world cinema over the years, we saw how eager and wide-eyed students are about films outside of their familiar worlds, and how their ways of seeing and thinking transform and expand by the mere exposure to the kinds of films they’re not likely to stumble upon on their own. We wanted to convey this excitement and experience beyond our own classrooms, but also come up with a system that captures the richness, diversity, and dynamics of world cinema. The method developed in the book shows how to approach world cinema—a phenomenon that seems too vast to comprehend as a whole—without reducing it to a simplistic “Hollywood and the rest” formula.

Especially in the charged moment of the present, defined by isolationism, divisiveness, and fear of the other, we found it imperative to posit world cinema as a powerful medium that builds a front against these forces. Watching films outside of your own cultural context is a kind of displacement, which can be uncomfortable, but this displacement is always a productive gesture than creates new worlds and new possibilities of understanding the other. Watching films shows us a world beyond our own, shows us how others see their own experiences, values, as well as how they see us, what the world looks like from their perspective. Each film is therefore a welcome and much needed interruption into the way we perceive and make our own worlds. World cinema is fundamentally about such encounters, and a new imagination of the world it enables is more urgent than ever before. World cinema has always been integral to cosmopolitanism, but we believe that today it presents an ethical responsibility. 

The increasing importance of the field of world cinema and the growing currency of the term notwithstanding, world cinema is still a very slippery and contentious concept. Understanding or even just approaching the dimensions of such a vast phenomenon can be overwhelming and risks turning into an abstract generality. The existing scholarship on world cinema has already built substantive foundations towards a better understanding of the term, showing that world cinema is not just a sum of various national cinemas. Our book builds on the field’s contributions and pushes its conceptual and practical ideas further in an attempt to make the study of world cinema more systematic and methodical. In film studies and beyond, terms like “world cinema,” “globalization,” “transnationalism” are too often buzz words, used as a mantra to describe any border-crossing phenomenon. We develop a comparative method that we hope will allow scholars, teachers, and students to map and navigate the complex landscape of world cinema, but also to understand the interconnected nature of various elements that make up world cinema, and to be sensitive to particular forces and dynamics that shape those relationships.

But perhaps most importantly, to return to the point raised earlier, all the questions we address in the book—from decentering the current models to charting the forces that create the mixed state of proliferating resources and production on the one hand and marginalization on the other—come back to the viewer’s encounter with a film outside of their cultural context. If the only thing we have done is strengthen the reader’s curiosity and desire for such encounters, for more and a wider variety of films, we have achieved our goal. 

The more we immersed ourselves in the topic, the more we realized that while the dynamics of border-crossing has widened and diversified our object of study, the discourse of word cinema is still firmly embedded in the Anglo-American academia and Western discourse. Despite the fact that scholarship on previously ignored cinemas and geopolitical regions has exponentially increased, conceptual frameworks we use to understand these cinemas are largely presumed to be universal. That is, we have accepted that film culture is global, but we haven’t truly thought about it globally.

We were therefore particularly delighted, amazed and overwhelmed by the prolific and rich nature of world cinema scholarship outside of Anglo-American film studies, and how this scholarship negotiates its place in relation to Western scholarship while being firmly rooted in its cultural context, with its own way of understanding the moving image. This scholarship showed us that understanding wold cinema is as much about paying attention to the diversity of films as it is about paying attention to the ways of seeing and thinking that have emerged elsewhere.Along with it came a realization that except for the sheer power of capital, distribution networks, and marketing machinery, Hollywood has little presence or influence on the number, quality, or style of films made around the world. Nigerian cinema or Nollywood, for example, does not have the glamour, visibility, and gravitas of Hollywood, but besides being unique in its production, distribution, and aesthetics, it is immensely popular, influential, and prolific, creating its own sphere of influence well beyond the context of African cinema. It is an important cinematic center, second to none, but is still largely ignored and deemed undeserving of a visible spot on the world cinema map.

Explore new, uncharted territories and lesser known cinemas around the world! Get out of your own comfort zones. So many brilliant films are being made around the world, but so little is known about them, and they completely escape the radar of the academic circles. If we take the concept of world cinema seriously, then we should write more about the different “worlds” of world cinema. Write about what is not talked about, and write about it in new ways, with fresh approaches and ways of seeing, outside of the established discourses. 

We want to thank Routledge and especially Natalie Foster, Senior Editor at Routledge, for all the support in the book. We hope that scholars, teachers, and students find it useful in learning about and navigating this incredibly rich and exciting field. 

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