Cinephilia as Activism

Kino #45  Photo by Sarah Kukathas

Postcard from Sydney, by Mathieu Ravier

Hi everyone,

I’ll start by claiming cinephile pride. Perhaps it’s because I’m French, but the word “cinephile” works for me. I like “fan”, but how many people out there don’t consider themselves fans of film? A distinction seems necessary, and in years of watching (reading about, writing about, dreaming about) cinema, no better term has been suggested to me. It describes – from Ancient Greek to French to English – someone with a passionate interest in cinema. That’s us, isn’t it?

In recent years (as I write this even!) the way in which we make, watch, share and talk about films has changed. Merci technology. More people seem to be joining the conversation and that conversation seems to be both more fragmented and less inhibited (by class, by education, by gender, by geography).

To answer Mike’s question, yes I believe you can be a cinephile even if the majority of your film watching happens outside the cinema. (As an aside, some of my friends’ home cinema set-ups, and the inclusive generosity with which they are used, puts the so-called “cinema experience” to shame.) Mostly, cinephiles have more tools at their disposal (…and there are more films to talk about), but has the conversation itself really changed? One outlet for cinephilia has changed: professional film journalism, but the conversation rages on.

The lack of diversity and representation are still problematic, as Frances pointed out. On the one hand, technology is levelling the playing field: making films, sharing films, watching films and talking about films is, more than ever, accessible to everyone. On the other hand cinema, in the name of free trade and globalization, is slowly but surely being shoved away from the protective embrace Governments have traditionally reserved for the arts, left to fend for itself in a liberal economy defined by supply and demand.

As a result, I feel the multiplicity of voices behind and around the camera is less reflected in mainstream culture, media and awareness than it could be. The diversity of what’s on our screens is under threat. And, due partly to ignorance about alternatives, it isn’t being demanded. This offers a tremendous opportunity to define new cinephilia as a form of activism or resistance.

The end of paid criticism has a silver lining: editorial freedom. Couple that editorial freedom with the inexpensive and accessible new ways of making, distributing, discussing and promoting films. Fuel it with a cinephilia that seeks to reach out and preach to the unconverted (rather, perhaps, than with fandom, which brings together people around a hermetic sub-culture?), and you have a tremendous force at your disposal. Do cinephiles have a responsibility?

I don’t have a background in film theory or in filmmaking. I’m an arts administrator and a festival programmer. My modest activism as a cinephile expresses itself through the organization, financing, production, marketing (and yes, programming) of film festivals, by repeated attempts (often thwarted by compromise: festivals are the realpolitik of evangelical cinephilia) to bring together creators and an audience.

But everyone is different. A cinephile activist is anyone who lets true cinephilia inform their actions. Cinephile activists can include published academics, cultural policy makers, archivists, media studies professors, passionate film distributors, independent critics, educators and of course, filmmakers. It can manifest itself on a global scale (Mubi.com, Cannes, TIFF Lightbox, Benten Films, the International Cinephile Society) or at your doorstep (underground film festivals, zines, street art, public disobedienceguerrilla screenings).

Cinephile activism is an inclusive, open-minded enthusiasm unshaped by dominant market forces, unburdened by self-censorship, unafraid of questioning itself, one which is informed by personal history and experience as much as by received wisdom, buoyed by critical thinking, sharpened by constructive discussion, curious of under-represented voices, aware of the underground, and which eventually dedicates itself to enhancing cinematic diversity, innovation and originality.

It isn’t new, but has it ever felt more urgent? Has it ever been more within reach?

Fight the power,

Mathieu Ravier

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