Anti-Imperialist Films

The following are excepts from Kostis Kornetis’ entry “Cinema and Anti-Imperialist Resistance” as featured in The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (2016):

“Olivier Assayas’s seminal film Après mai (2011) includes a key moment when the protagonists, students from France travelling to Italy, participate in an open-air screening of revolutionary film-making on China and Latin America. The depiction of the young revolutionaries in early 1970s Florence, gathered around the screen in perfect counter-cultural outfit, endlessly debating the limits between bourgeois and radical film-making and whether cinema can provide the ‘revolutionary syntax’ for the new rebellious identities, encapsulates the entire meaning of cinema as a vehicle of anti-imperialist resistance at the time.


































“Gillo Pontecorvo’s anti-colonial masterpiece Battle of Algiers (1966)… Pontecorvo would continue making political films touching on difficult subjects, including Portuguese colonialism in Burn! (1969) – and the gripping political thriller Operation Ogre (1979), starring Gian Maria Volonté, on ETA’s assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco in Madrid in 1973.


























































































“The most exuberant example of ‘Third Cinema’ was surely Solanas and Getino’s The Hour of the Furnaces (1968). The film is a landmark moment in terms of anti-imperialist film-making. It bombards the viewer with superimposed images of the European and American imperialist control of Argentina’s national economy (i.e. through the beef monopoly or the control of the railway system), attempting to construct a condemnation not only of neo-colonialism, but also of the role of the media and information in manipulating the masses. It is also a complete condemnation of British and US neo-colonialism and a defence of Peronism, blended with the class struggle.



























“A prominent place in anti-imperialist cinema was reserved for films that were programmatically against the war that the US was waging in Vietnam. Joris Ivens is one of the most illustrious exponents of this tendency with such films as The Seventeenth Parallel (1967) and The People and Its Guns (1968) – which he completed after a trip to, and several films on, Maoist China during both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.


























“Jerry Snell’s Hearts and Minds (1974), a documentary including footage from US helicopters bombing Vietnamese villages and Mickey Mouse in Vietnam by Lee Savage (1968) – whereby in just one minute the trigger-happy cartoon volunteers for the war and dies immediately after reaching Vietnam – are amongst the most interesting exponents of anti-Vietnam War movies. Year of the Pig (1969) by Emile De Antonio needs special mention in this category.





































































“Another director dealing with that very central conflict was Cuban film-maker Santiago Alvarez. In his film Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th (1967), he exposed ‘the daily texture of life in Hanoi under bombardment’ (Macdonald and Cousins 1996: 291–297). He would later create an extremely influential film tracing Fidel Castro’s trip to Salvador Allende’s Chile, not long before General Augusto Pinochet’s US-backed coup in September 1973 (De America Soy Hijo U A Ella me Debo [1971]). Chile and the downfall of Allende’s socialist Government became the subject of Chilean director Patricio Guzmán’s monumental documentary The Battle of Chile. The three parts of the trilogy – The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie (1975), The Coup d’Etat (1976), Popular Power (1979) – chronicle the battle between revolution and counter-revolution in the country and the decisive role of the US in the triumph of the latter.































































“A film-maker constituting a separate category of his own is Chris Marker – an idiosyncratic case of a director with a solid pedigree of anti-imperialist film-making who made an early appearance in 1955, with Alain Resnais in Statues Also Die (1955). This was one of the first films on the African experience of colonialism, and was censored in France. Marker continued in the same direction with Cuba Si! (1961). His masterpiece is, however, Grin Without a Cat, offering a panoramic depiction of the 1960s. Linking May 1968 in France to the war in Vietnam, and the anti-war movement in the US to the disintegration of Che Guevara and Fidel’s Third-Worldist movement and the bureaucratisation of the Cuban revolution, the film annoyed both sides of the political spectrum for its outspokenness.






















































“Very much in Marker’s tradition was a major West German anti-imperialist film, Germany in Autumn (1978). The film was co-directed by a collective, comprising legendary director Rainer Werner Fassbinder alongside Alf Brustellin, Alexander Kluge, Bernhard Sinkel, and Volker Schlöndorff, who also excelled in political film-making on similar subject matters (e.g. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum [1975]). The film provided a non-linear account of left militancy across time as it linked Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to the Red Army Faction, offering a strong critique against the presence of US bases and the Federal Republic’s pursuit of American-inspired policies.















“One also has to mention William Klein’s powerful satire Mr Freedom (1969) – on an American action hero who comes to save France from a Communist takeover at around the time of the Parisian évènements – and his documentary Eldridge Cleaver (1970) on the political exile to Algeria of one of the leading figures of the Black Panthers in the US… On the subject of the anti-imperialist action of the Black Panthers, one has to mention Italian film-maker Antonello Branca and his seminal movie on that party from an insider’s perspective in Seize the Time (1970).






















“Constantin Costa-Gavras’s and Elio Petri’s rendering of the political film-making mainstream is also worth mentioning. Gavras’s Z (1969), State of Siege (1973), and The Missing (1982) condemn the US role in various contexts, such as the Greek pre-dictatorship police violence (1967–74), the CIA’s role in Uruguay, and Pinochet’s crimes in Chile, while The Confession (1970) is a gripping depiction of Stalinist totalitarianism in post-1948 Czechoslovakia… Elio Petri – with a masterful political thriller regarding the repressive state apparatus in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) – shared Gavras’s aversion for the purely militant film and the conviction that cinema should be mainstream enough to oblige a wider public to reflect on political issues.









“… Kierion by Dimos Theos (1968). This noir film did not have a global impact but acquired cult status, especially after the fall of the Greek Junta, despite (or maybe because of) its minimal production values, filmed in grainy black and white which ‘ha[d] the frightening result of audience involvement’, as critic Mel Schuster pointed out (1979: 132). It is an investigative thriller on the role of US authorities in framing Greek left-wingers and putting away American journalists in the troubled time around the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967. Kierion is a typical case of éngagé cinema of the national kind that fed into the creation of an idiosyncratic Greek political film-making by newly appearing directors, involving some of its own extras, such as Pantelis Voulgaris and Theo Angelopoulos. The latter, in particular, created an epic cinema that reflected on real pieces of recent Greek history, whereby foreign imperialist involvement had most of the time tragic results. His claustrophobic and dark Days of ’36 (1972) is a film on the authoritarian state of affairs Greece in the 1930s, clearly commenting on the 1967–74 dictatorship. Angelopoulos’s masterpiece The Traveling Players (1975) is a non-linear piece of cinematic historiography, whereby the destructive role of the British and the Americans in Greek affairs is laid out poignantly.

“Last, but not least, one has to mention antiimperialist cinema originating in socialist countries and the so-called Eastern Bloc. Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964) is a very interesting case of a Soviet-Cuban co-production, with the great Soviet director attempting to recreate the conditions of the Cuban Revolution on screen and in socialist-realist terms, at a time in which de-Stalinisation was the order of the day in his own country.






“Of equal interest is Time to Live, a SovietBulgarian propaganda film that documents the Ninth Annual Communist Youth Festival held in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1968. The film entails a strong anti-Americanism, demonstrated through condemnations of the Vietnam War, and parallel praise of people’s solidarity, world peace, and freedom. Czechoslovak and Yugoslav cinema also stand out. Jan Nemec’s Oratorio for Prague (1968), that documents both the ‘opening’ in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring and its violent repression, is the only documentary account of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The film Jan Palach (1969), filmed and circulated anonymously outside Czechoslovakia, pays homage to the eponymous student who burned himself in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in January 1969 in protest against the Soviet occupation. Yugoslav cinema is a further interesting exponent of anti-imperialism in the East: Želimir Žilnik’s June Turmoil (1968) was an authoritative documentary manifestation of 1968 in the East and an indictment of repressive imperialist tendencies on the part of the ruling Communist elites. Žilnik’s film documents the unrest in Belgrade in favour of more liberalisation, inspired by the Prague Spring. One would have to add here as well Dušan Makavejev’s idiosyncratic films WR: Mysteries of The Organism (1971) and Sweet Movie (1974), with their parallel critique of both communist and capitalist excesses – typical of radical Yugoslav film-making. Polish director Andrej Wajda and his use of historical parallels – the period of Terror after the French Revolution in Danton (1983) – to refer to Stalinism or the 1981 military coup by General Jaruzelsky is also worth mentioning.








“Cinema with a distinct anti-imperialist vocation eventually diminished in the 1980s, turning from being a major tendency to a minor and marginal one, despite the fact that some important film-makers such as Ken Loach (Land and Freedom, 1995), Raoul Peck (Lumumba, 2000) and Göran Olsson (The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975, 2011), and even mainstream directors such as Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, 2002) built from its legacy…”


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