Third Cinema in Africa: A Cinematic Liberation of the Oppressed

Photo of Elspeth Black
2 December 2016

Third Cinema is a cinematic movement that originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Taking the polemic essay ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ as its manifesto, it was a protest against colonialism, capitalism and Hollywood through the medium of film. Although the movement began in South America, its ideals were swiftly adopted by a generation of African filmmakers, who found strong affinities with the struggle against cultural and political oppression.

Published in 1969, ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ – written by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, members of the Grupo Cine Liberación – was a leftist manifesto that aimed to question inherent power structures within both filmmaking and society. They expounded the virtues of anonymous directing and collective filmmaking in striking contrast to the Hollywood Movie model, whereby a film’s title is intrinsically linked to the director’s name. Third Cinema further questioned the structures of power within colonialism and tried to liberate the oppressed by giving a voice to their struggles.

However, most important in Solanas and Getino’s essay is the idea that for a film to be part of the Third Cinema, the film could not be assimilated by the government. For there to be a Third Cinema, there must also be a First and Second Cinema. First Cinema refers to Hollywood films and Second Cinema is European art house films; aesthetically pleasing, but not politically motivated. Third Cinema should be distributed clandestinely, avoiding commercialism and thereby refusing to feed the capitalist model.

This movement against ingrained power structures was quickly adopted by the African auteur Med Hondo, who was born and raised in Mauritania. Moving to Morocco aged 18, then later to France, the institutional racism and discrimination he encountered every day was a direct influence on his cinematic oeuvre. In the 1970s, colonialism in Africa was drawing to a close, leading to political strife and massive upheavals in a number of countries. Hondo was a vocal supporter of African cinema as a tool for displaying the devastation colonialism had caused for many, and the instability it left in its wake.

Solanas and Getino’s original thesis was criticised with valid claims that even though it claims to represent the masses, it stays in the hands of the educated elite. Yet while myriad problems have been found with the initial essay ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, there is no doubting the cinematic legacy left by their thesis. Third Cinema has since been redefined in the twenty-first century, taking as its core the desire to give voice to the oppressed, yet expanding its subject beyond anticolonialism.

Here, we give a quick roundup of some of the leading titles, both past and present, from across Africa that fall under the term ‘Third Cinema’:

Moolaadé (2004)

Directed by world-renowned Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, Moolaadé addresses the practice of female genital mutilation. The film, set in rural Burkina Faso, tells the story of a group girls who wish to escape their fate of ritual circumcision by invoking magical protection (moolaadé) from one of the women in the village.

Daratt (2006)

Set in Chad the years following the forty-year civil war, Daratt, directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, chronicles the journey of a boy who tries to kill his father’s murderer.

11’09”01 – September 11 (2002)

This international film was composed of 11 short films from directors working across the globe. Although only two in this collection of shorts are directed by Africans, they provide a broader sense of global realities following the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. The two African directors are Youssef Chanine for the Egyptian segment, and Idrissa Ouedraogo for the Burkina Faso segment.

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

One of the pillars of Third Cinema, The Battle of Algiers was shot as a pseudo-documentary showing the Algerians fight against French colonialism. Its director, the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo, received an Oscar Nomination for Best Director for the film.

The Yacoubian Building (2006)

Directed by Marwan Hamed, Yacoubin Building is based on the eponymous novel by Alaa Al Aswany. This ambitious film is alleged to be the most expensive film produced in Egypt, and charts a number of stories – at times parallel, at times interweaving – that collectively address such topics as homosexuality, Islamic fundamentalism and corruption.

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