There is a common misconception that Hollywood still has a monopoly on film. It doesn’t. And it hasn’t for a while.
Perhaps there was a time in early cinema when films produced in the Hollywood Hills spoke to the needs of the world, but this is no longer the case. Many more film industries have emerged since then and have not only survived but flourished by catering to what matters most to its people.
Each industry has its own distinct style and approach to filmmaking, whether that is through storytelling or creation. And with more countries and creators gaining mainstream attention — take for example the re-emergence of Greek tragedy on the world stage through the successes of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and now Greek/UK hybrid and Academy Award-winning gem The Favourite — there is certainly room for more voices to be heard in film.
This is why the eight-part series Beyond Hollywood from Culture Trip is so refreshing. In it, film editor Cassam Looch travels to Pakistan, Scandinavia, Ghana and Hong Kong to take a closer look at where each film industry has come from and where it is headed.
The first two episodes center around Pakistan‘s place in the film landscape and how it has created a unique voice for itself separate to that of India’s well-known Bollywood scene. Although Bollywood and ‘Lollywood’ (as Pakistani cinema has previously been referred to) may share a common language, colourful aesthetic, and appreciation for well-choreographed dance numbers, the new wave of cinema in Pakistan has embraced a more realistic depiction of life in its films. The character the bustling city of Karachi brings to the screen only adds to the charm.
A breakthrough film to come out of this revival is Cake (2018), praised by critics and audiences for its production value and progressive themes. Actor Sanam Saeed made an important point in episode 1 about how the nation’s cinema is evolving: “People in Pakistan needed to see a film like [Cake] and be like look, cinema isn’t just being entertained in tankas and lehenga cholis and all these bright colours. It’s storytelling. Cinema can change mindsets, it’s changed lives.”
Next up, Looch takes us on a culture trip to Scandinavia to learn more about the locations and influences that have made Scandi noir so successful. The film genre may have links to Film Noir from the 40s/50s but this reimagination focuses more on the contemporary darkness in humanity.
A brief trip to Copenhagen in episode 4 opens up the conversation around what’s next for film and TV post-Scandi noir. Given the mainstream popularity of the genre in recent years, young filmmakers are now looking for alternative ways of storytelling. Expect more counter-culture influences to start popping up in this idyllic region.
Episode 5 and 6 are all about Ghanaian cinema and changing the narrative commonly associated with films about Africa. Rather than portraying a history of colonisation and suffering, artistic projects like The Burial of Kojo (2018) have tried to paint a more positive picture of life in Africa. This sentiment is summed up well by veteran actor Akofa Edjeani: “Film is what was used to colonise us, and therefore, we should use film to decolonise ourselves.”
In the spirit of the quick turnaround films produced in Ghana, Looch set himself the challenge of making a film in 48 hours. Teaming up with director Togbe Gavua, the pair created a two-minute short based around an African folk tale about the water spirit Mami Wata. Curious how it all turned out? You can watch Mami in full here.
The final two episodes take us to Hong Kong to learn more about the stunt work involved in action filmmaking, paying homage to the renowned Martial Arts films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. There was a time when Hong Kong produced over 300+ films per year, but this number has decreased steadily since the region was handed over to China in the 50s.
The booming mainland Chinese market may have played a part in the decline in Hong Kong films. The value systems are slightly different, and in order for young filmmakers to make use of the film resources in the mainland, they are expected to conform to the conventions of the more traditional Chinese market.
One film making waves in spite of this is LGBT drama Tracey (2018). As director Jun Li explains in Episode 7 of the series, “for experience, Hong Kong filmmakers go to the mainland and that is a completely different market. A lot of things don’t translate, we can’t actually get a permit to shoot a film about LGBT. The currency is different, the language is different.” This tug-of-war has meant young filmmakers are finding unconventional ways of getting their messages out.
What’s most encouraging about Cassam Looch’s journey around the world is that it shows the far-reaching impact of filmmaking. We now have the opportunity like never before for greater understanding and unification, by having more people directly share their stories with the world. A world that finally seems ready to receive it.
As Looch so eloquently sums up at the end of episode 8, “we’ve picked places that aren’t necessarily at the top of people’s lists when they think about films. But there are stories here. There’s a heritage. There’s a history in everywhere that we went to and they’re making new films, far removed from the films of old that we might remember them from. But they’re films that I think everyone in some way, shape or form is gonna hear about or know about going forward. If they haven’t already”
You can watch the full episodes for free from the Culture Trip website here.
What do you think of the series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!