Contemporary Women’s Cinema, Global Scenarios and Transnational Contexts. Introduction by Veronica Pravadelli
This volume opens the publications of the international network Global Women’s Cinema whose aim is to investigate women’s agency in lm production, distribution and reception in contemporary global and transnational contexts. The network was established in 2013 in Rome with the conference Contemporary Women’s Cinema, Global Scenarios and Transnational Contexts organized by Veronica Pravadelli at Roma Tre University. Since then the network has developed thanks to two more conferences. In 2014, at Stony Brook University E. Ann Kaplan, Adrián Pérez Melgosa and Kathleen M. Vernon organized the second edition, titled Global Women’s Cinema: Transnational Contexts, Cultural Difference and Gendered Scenarios. In 2016 members of the network gathered again at Concordia University at the conference Women, Film Culture, and Globalization organized by Rosanna Maule. New scholars have joined the original group at each meeting, and the network has thus grown and become a solid international reality. At the moment this book is in press, the fourth edition of the conference is being planned.
The Rome conference out of which this book developed was made possible by the financial support of Roma Tre University, in particular the ‘Special Funds for International Activities’ awarded in 2012. I take this opportunity to thank once again my university without which the conference and the network would not exist. (1)
The original idea behind the Rome meeting was to explore the ways women’s cinema has engaged the scenarios of global change and how issues of gender have shaped stories, characters, public and private landscapes. This broad framework has remained the core aspect of the following two conferences as well.
In the essays collected here, the politics and forms of contemporary women’s cinema are investigated according to several frameworks addressing both theoretical and historical paradigms. In one way or another, many essays discuss contemporary cinema in relation to 1970s and 1980s feminist lm practices and theories. Contributors analyze the concepts of women’s cinema and authorship (Felten, Radner) and lm forms such as documentary and independent cinema, by going back and taking issue with earlier theorizing on female agency and women’s contribution to the lm form (Pravadelli, White).
Contemporary cinema has developed a radically new imaginary vis-à- vis 1970s feminist cinema. In the heyday of feminism women filmmakers focused in particular on women’s sexuality and the private sphere. Contemporary practices move in different terrains. Often regardless of national origin or authorial concerns, women’s cinema now tends to merge women’s personal and private trajectories with historical, social, political, and religious dynamics (Lant, Majumdar, Stefanelli, Vellucci). The story of a female friendship or the relation between mother and daughter or between sisters may intersect the residue of past national traumas or develop in the present amid cultural, class, ethnic or religious conflicts (De Pascalis, Horne). Women’s cinema often represents a clear opposition between the male public sphere, ruled by irresolvable conflicts, and the female private realm where women are able to negotiate differences. The dialectic between public and private spheres is particularly important in films addressing historical traumas (Melgosa, Vernon) or cultural traumas provoked by global economy (Kaplan).
A frequent theme addressed by non-Western women’s cinema is the relation with Western cultures, values and habits. Such a relation can be implicit or explicit, but most often it is approached via the trope of ‘modernity’ and the dialectic modernity vs. tradition. Modernity and the relation between non-Western and Western cultures and value systems are key to an understanding of what is at stake today. We have barely begun to explore these fundamental themes. We intend to investigate these issues beyond their inscription in the lmic texture to cover all aspects of lm practice and culture. Let us consider, for example, filmmakers’ personal biographies and education. Lingzhen Wang has argued that there are notable differences between Chinese filmmakers from Hong Kong and from Mainland China:
Perhaps because the majority of its directors studied or lived abroad, women’s cinema in Hong Kong is distinguished by its transnational, transcultural, and border-crossing characteristics. Unlike Mainland Chinese directors, whose professional rise had until the late 1990s relied on institutional support from within the nation-state boundary, Hong Kong directors have long negotiated a commercial market in a transnational context. (2)
It would be interesting to test Wang’s framework on other geographic areas and see how filmmakers’ upbringing and education may inflect the national and/or transnational status of their films.
This example clarifies that the task we have taken up requires a transnational feminist practice based on the comparison between different contexts and symbolic systems. In Scattered Hegemonies Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan argued that in order to avoid the pitfalls of ‘global feminism’ which often stands ‘for a kind of Western cultural imperialism’ a ‘comparative work rather than the relativistic linking of “differences”’ is necessary. A transnational feminist practice must ‘compare multiple, overlapping, and discrete oppressions rather than construct a theory of hegemonic oppression under a uni ed category of gender.’3 I would twist a bit Grewal and Kaplan’s influential thesis and argue that comparative work should signal not only differences in the representation of women’s oppression and overall condition but also similarities. Transnational and global dynamics run parallel and should be studied together.
In film studies, earlier theorizing on the transnational focused on the movement of films and filmmakers in relation to production, distribution and exhibition as many filmmakers have diasporic connections. But the transnational condition of both directors and films also in ects the aesthetic register of the films. Will Higbee and Song Hwee Lim have argued that ‘border-crossing is the raison d’etre of both transnational cinemas and its studies’ and that similarly ‘all border-crossing activities are necessarily fraught with issues of power.’ Therefore, transnationalism ‘is also always attentive to questions of postcoloniality, politics and power, and how these may, in turn, uncover new forms of neocolonialist practices in the guise of popular genres or auteurist aesthetics.’4 Many essays gathered here engage in different ways the transnational dynamics of their object by working on the convergence between gender, cultural and aesthetic registers.
The advent of transnational studies has also put into question one of the most cherished working frames in lm studies, that of national cinema. Transnational studies have affected research on national cinemas in many ways. In particular they have opened up the nation/national category by addressing the transnational aspects of national cinemas so that the idea of a ‘national identity’ as a set of specific tropes has also been questioned. Investigating these issues in relation to women’s cinema and gender dynamics is another line of research worth pursuing (Ghazizadeh).
The political thrust of this collaborative effort is to understand the forms of contemporary women’s cinema in order to assess its impact on the formation of subjectivities and the circulation of images and ideologies. This ambitious project is based first of all on the analysis of films and the lm form, on textual evidences and issues of representation, but is not limited to them. It is equally important to study extra-textual aspects of cinema as well as women’s contribution to other visual media. We have in fact started to work on new forms of production and distribution, and women’s authorship in television and digital media (Behlil, Delveroudi, Fallica, Maule). Like the themes previously mentioned these issues are very complex and need further research. We are aware that the collaborative project we have started is by definition in progress. Hopefully this anthology is the first step towards a broader and much needed remapping of contemporary women’s cinema and its relations to the new cultural geographies of the global world.
1 The Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University (US) generously sponsored the Rome conference. Funds were also provided by Concordia University (CAN), Kadir Has University (TUR), New York University (US), Universidad de San Andrés (ARG), University of Otago (NZL). Thanks to all of them! I also thank Ilaria De Pascalis for her precious editorial work on this book.
2 Lingzhen Wang, ‘Introduction: Transnational Feminist Recon gurations of Film Discourse and Women’s Cinema,’ in Chinese Women’s Cinema, ed. by Ead. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), p. 35.
3 Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, ‘Introduction: Transnational Feminist Practices and Questions of Postmodernity,’ in Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. 17–18.
4 Will Higbee and Song Hwee Lim, ‘Concepts of transnational cinema: towards a critical transnationalism in lm studies,’ Transnational Cinemas, 1.1 (2010): pp. 17–18.