2021 – C2: Audiovisual Colonialism: Producing Power

Chair: Gabriel Menotti

All Inclusive/ Tout Inclus: Cinematic voyages between Cuba and Québec
Darien Sanchez-Nicolas (University of Concordia)

Abstract: In this presentation I investigate the involvement of domestic hospitality businesses in Cuba (paladares -private restaurants located in family households-, and casas particulares -bed-and-breakfast-type hostels-) as unofficial partners in transnational film productions between Québec and Cuba, namely in the films All you can eat Buddha (Ian Lagarde, 2017), Cuba Merci Gracias (Alex B. Martin, 2018); and Sur les toits Havane (Pedro Ruiz, 2018). I consider that these films constitute cinematic voyages, that is the marginal, concerted application of entrepreneurial tactics to foreign leisure travels, transcultural personal affective relations, and domestic spaces and activities in Cuba towards the completion of foreign independent film projects. I first introduce the notion of ludic resistance in transnational filmmaking to make place for indigenous agency and oppositional tactics in our understandings of media heterotopias (Chung 2012: 90; 2018: 2) and greenfield locations (O’Regan & Ward 2010: 80). Attempts to seamlessly erase and instrumentalize all things Cuban for the sake of productivity are met with the fluidity and insidiousness with which local labor practices, economic imperatives, raced and gendered bodies, and aural and visual stimuli contest and insinuate themselves into the process. Secondly, I will analyze how these cinematic voyages rely on grassroots forms of cross-cultural cooperation where foreign actors seek and depend on the proactive involvement of local agents in an act of filmic co-creation. Lastly, I examine the liminal sites these films portray and nest themselves in, based on affective and sexual arrangements that are coterminous with the everyday gestures of the economies of queer transnational domesticities. The marginal queered spaces of these films, mirror the peripheral, entangled ideological positionalities of Latinx, Cuban, and Quebecois identities and their exceptionality in North America. They also permit a reflexive exercise about the positionality of these films in global media markets.

Bio: Darien Sanchez-Nicolas (Havana City, 1983) holds a BA in Art History from the University of Havana and an MA in Africana Studies from El Colegio de México. He is a doctoral candidate in Film and Moving Image Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema of Concordia University, Montreal. He has been invited as lecturer and presenter to the International School of Cinema and Television of San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV, Cuba), the UNAM (Mexico), the University of Miami (USA), the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle (France), the Université de Montréal (Canada) and others. In 2009 he was presented with the National Award of Cinematographic Research in Cuba. He has also received the scholarship of the National Council of Sciences and Technology of Mexico (CONACYT) (2009), the Fondation DeSève fellowship (2015), the MITACS Globalink Research Award (2019), and the Fonds de Recherches du Québec Société et Culture scholarship (2020).

Revisiting The African Queen: Hollywood Abroad and Cinematic Colonialism
Alexander Christensen (University of Bristol Columbia)

Abstract: The African Queen (1951) is not the first Hollywood film shot on location in Africa yet is significant in how Africa—as both a physical location and a cornerstone of colonial mythology—is central to not only its narrative, but also its real-life promotion and legacy. The film is set in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) and was primarily filmed in Uganda and the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Though very conventional its portrayal of Africa as an inherently dangerous ‘Dark Continent,’ a study of its production and reception reveals the extent to which Hollywood views the African continent as an exotic, untamed wilderness defined by Dark Continent tropes Okaka Opio Dokotum identifies: Africa as “the unpolished, Edenic romantic utopia… the dangerous alluring… a cultural and intellectual tabula rasa… [and as a] mere background for Western action flicks” (Dokotum, Hollywood and Africa 1). These tropes not only appear in The African Queen, but more importantly in reviews, interviews, documentaries, and both fiction and non-fiction books about the film’s historic production (screenwriter Peter Viertel’s novel White Hunter, Black Heart (1953) and Katharine Hepburn’s 1987 memoir The Making of the African Queen). Through analysis of these paratextual works in the context of writing by Dokotum and Nyasha Mboti on Hollywood and Africa, this presentation will highlight how The African Queen’s production, reception, and legacy reflect a broader ongoing history of orientalism and exploitation within Hollywood films produced in Africa. I will not only consider actual filmic content—racist, colonial, and Dark Continent tropes—but also the language used by filmmakers, actors, and critics to describe the continent. From this, I seek to not simply discuss the film’s problematic representations but argue that these depictions will persist due to Hollywood’s inability to divorce itself from its colonial gaze.

Bio: Alexander “Alec” Christensen is an MA student in the Cinema and Media Studies program at the University of British Columbia. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2020, majoring in English Literature and minoring in Film Studies, also at UBC. Alec’s research interests primarily revolve around Hollywood depictions of other nations, particularly those in the Global South.

“We Are A Team”: the Selling of Global Images in Produce Camp 2021
Lyuwenyu Zhang (University of Southern California)

Abstract: While the rest of the world is still recuperating from the Covid-19 pandemic, China—thanks to its swift and rigorous reaction—has largely recovered from the impact especially in terms of new media entertainment production. By focusing on the Tencent/ CJ E&M production of Produce Camp 2021 (Chuangzaoying 2021)—a reality competition show set in mainland China, this paper seeks to elucidate the intentional global approach in this program and argues that the incorporation of global images not only helps promote the program but also sells the image of China to a global audience. Produce Camp 2021, for the first time in its four-year journey, has gathered trainees from many different countries including Japan, the United States, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine, and Cuba. The program consciously brands itself as the incubator of an “international boy’s group” and promotes the image of a team where young people from different countries can work and grow together. With this setting in mind, this paper will look at the ways through which Tencent is selling the images of the trainees as idols while promoting the image of a globalized modern China. Produce Camp 2021, with its main episodes streaming on Tencent Videos, has heavily utilized alternative new media platforms, like TikTok and live-streaming, as well as non-competition reality-TV contents to achieve its saturated screen time. By examining this saturation of contents under the frame of globalization, I argue that Produce Camp 2021 has reconfigured the sites of consumption for television as well as expanded the audience demographic in post-Covid China. This paper draws inspiration from television scholars like Raymond Williams, Marshall McLuhan, and Tara McPherson. By combining television studies and new media approaches, I intend to challenge the very definition of television specifically in a content-driven, globalized China.

Bio: Lyuwenyu Zhang is a MA student in the department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California. Originally from China, she received her B.A. in Media Studies from Emerson College in Boston. An aspiring film archivist and media scholar, Lyuwenyu’s primary research interests center around early cinema, film preservation, Chinese cinema and East Asian studies. Lyuwenyu believes in the power of film archiving and preserving the lost treasures in moving image history. She has presented at the 2021 NYU Cinema Studies Conference and published book reviews in The Moving Image and The Velvet Light Trap. Her interests also include Chinese cinema and archives, photography, and nitrate film preservation.

Capture the Moment: Festival Brochures from the Origin of Asian American International Film Festival, 1978-1987
Kaifan Wang (New York University)

Abstract: Printed materials generated by film festivals have been taken notice by the field since the early 2000s. Yet leafing through a pamphlet, scholars tend to pour over writings such as curatorial statements, program information, and extensive reportage, whereas peripheral contents like advertisements and sponsorship notes are often overlooked. This research thus aims to draw attention to these rarely discussed texts and evaluate their value for film festival studies and cinema historiography through an empirical archival research of the Asian American International Film Festival’s brochures produced during the first decade of its running. Since 1978, AAIFF has been showcasing independent Asian and Asian American cinema to audiences in New York City and beyond. Born of the cultural awareness of the Asian American experiences and a collective identity in its formation, AAIFF played a pivotal role in facilitating grassroots media practices and mobilizing social activism among the Asian diasporic communities. The film festival’s nature of a three-faced Janus is very much in evidence from advertisements and sponsorship notes for they reflect the festival’s attempts to account for its changing funding bodies and structures, address a socially specific yet growing audience, and at the same time, maintain its connections to multiple social movements. These texts suggest the involvement and evolvement of the interconnected networks of individuals, collectives, and commercial entities which epitomize the socio-economic realities of the Asian diasporic communities, capturing a larger political picture that informs and influences the conceptualization and organization of the festival. Therefore, I propose that such peripheral contents can be wielded as both a discursive and a historiographic tool that expands on the understanding of the social-geography of particular film festival culture beyond the confinement of theatres and models of production, curation, and reception.

Bio: Kaifan Wang is a PhD candidate of Cinema Studies at New York University. She holds an MSc in Film, Exhibition and Curation from the University of Edinburgh and a BA from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Her research interests include anthropology of cultural institutions, film festival studies, media activism, and transnational visual cultures. She is currently working on research projects looking at how Chinese transient migrant communities imagine themselves as political beings and practice political engagement via digital media production, circulation, and consumption.