- Film, History and Cultural Citizenship: Sites of Production
Putting together a concise and useful volume on film as cultural practice in an international context poses several problems. Given the fluid international film trade today, longstanding traditions of studying isolated national production are outmoded, yet modelling current practices of film production, circulation, or consumption remains a challenge unevenly met. Likewise, the boundaries between producer and viewer that seemed so much clearer in the pre-digital age now seem far more complex. The idea of 'film' is itself becoming outmoded, as media texts migrate over international borders and across media platforms. Add to this advances in film historiography that challenge the tidy separation of social, economic, and cultural histories, and the task of assembling a volume that surveys the field (which field?) is challenging.
This is a challenge that Film, History, and Cultural Citizenship has met quite well. In a move that will make the book very useful for instruction, its introduction is its most theoretically sophisticated and controversial section. Here, the editors carefully delineate the limitations of hewing too closely to disciplinary formations pegged to fading social and cultural formations, as well as the pitfalls inherent in creating interdisciplinary [End Page 478] approaches to film. To be more specific, Chen and Churchill outline, in very helpful ways, how one might think of film as 'a site of production of history and cultural citizenship,' and of film as historiography rather than simply its object. Their aim, they argue, is 'to investigate the complexity of the historical dynamics that situate modern subjects in cultural frames formed by governments, corporations, the imaginations of filmmakers, and those that view films.'
By comparison, the book's individual entries are relatively understated (with one unfortunate exception), making modest claims and backing them up through close readings of either individual texts, their circulation and reception, or some combination thereof. The presence of Raymond Williams (structures of feeling) and Benedict Anderson (imagined communities) - as well as Nancy, Agamben, and Appadurai - is felt throughout, either as invoked or as challenged and complicated. The book is divided into three sections, 'Producing National and Transnational Imaginaries,' 'Historical Feeling in the Sites of Production,' and 'The Culture of Film and the Production of History.' Each does exactly what it claims, organizing the case studies by whether they trouble the line between the national and the global, take up the production or regulation of an affective history, or consider the creation of histories that complicate existing master narratives.
In part 1, Sharon Hayashi reads Shimizu Hiroshi's road films as an understated resistance to Japan's wartime imperial project. David Churchill examines Michael Moore's invocation of 'Canada' as a means of regulating the US left. Nima Naghibi looks at how the production and screening of the work of Saira Shah has served differing Euro-American interests. Tina Mai Chen considers how Maoist film practice worked to generate a sense of China's emerging national and international presence. Finally, Macarena Gómez-Barris carefully charts how the works of Patricio Guzman provided fodder for a Latin American counter-reactionary discourse that then returned to become useful to the victims of the Pinochet regime.
Part 2 opens with Neville Hoad's reading of how the film Yesterday (2004) re-inscribes the South African AIDS crisis in hetero-normative terms for a European and American audience. Next, video artist and critic Roewan Crowe explores the re-appropriation of the classic Hollywood Western and its potency for queer Canadian responses to the imperial project. Peter Kulchyski then reads Atanarjuat (2001) for its complicated and contradictory working through of meanings of community at the boundary between nation and dominion. Finally, Brenda Austin-Smith presents the case study of one woman's wartime recollections of Now, Voyager (1942) as a means of understanding not only the local experience of film viewing but how to speak back to accepted histories of that experience.
The book's final section troubles the relationship between text and context. First, Kathleen Buddle demonstrates how the very...