A propos globalisation, I once wrote somewhere. “As we have managed to survive electrification, we may very well survive globalisation too”. This may be an inside pun for those of us, fortunate enough to have survived noble but dangerous experiment of communism, which a bearded gentleman once described as “socialism with electricity.” Yet I am convinced that the sentence hints at an appropriate approach to globalisation problem. Anyway, this was my preconception, or maybe a hypothesis on the subject of “national visions” prior to my chairing the conference in Ebeltoft. The hypothesis was not taken out of thin air, of course. Rather I drew such conclusions knowing the film situation in Slovenia well, and knowing also, that the situation elsewhere is not fundamentally different.
What should one not do in order to understand the problem of national cinemas in a globalized world, and thus maybe have a slight chance to influence its impact on us? One should not polarise one’s attitude about it. One should not present the issue as “for” and “against.” Not surprisingly it polarising is exactly what is taking place, framing the issue as globalisation versus almost everything else in our world. The pros are preaching gospel of progress, the possibilities of globalisation to make everybody rich and happy – how many times has this not happened since the steam engine – and the anti’s, the luddites, warn for all the disastrous consequences of globalisation. In my mind both lines of arguments are right. But both also draw wrong conclusions.
History informs us that the promises of the optimists have never been fulfilled, and that phenomena such as globalisation have ultimately always served a small minority, and damaged the vast majority of men. Now, we know that the gap between the rich and the poor countries in the world is growing, and there is not even a utopian idea about how to do something about it! This gap is as much about culture as it is about anything else.
The crucial question then remains, can we avoid globalisation? To my mind we cannot, since it is a political and economic process based on technological change. The trains made the first world war an efficient industrial slaughterhouse. We must admit, though, that trains fulfilled other functions too. If our forefathers had stopped the development of heavy industry, they might have stopped a war. But Mr. Lud and his followers were wrong, not necessarily in principle, but because on that there was never any choice.
The situation is similar in our area. Regarding the prospect of national cinemas and other media, we are either pros or anti. Here also we are engaged in useless fights, since we will not be given the choice. The world media market, especially cinema, has, as we know, been globalized for a long time. It is probably a good indicator of how globalisation will be for other areas. The almost total domination of the globalized “Hollywood” film industry (which is in fact super-national and is not the American cinema!) on the world market is an undisputed fact. Yet neither globalized Hollywood or the USA are to be blamed for this. They are only pursuing their best interests in a market economy. It is we, (the rest of the world), who are not doing the same, so we are responsible for our own failures. This is so, in spite of the fact that this globalized Hollywood domination is not solely the result of the superiority of whatever kind of product. The U.S. government, is of course helpful in giving a highly profitable segment of its economy and public relations, (soft power), assistance. Rightly so. The enhancement of trade is one of the roles of governments. Our governments should follow their example.
Cinema and audio-visual media are, as we know, highly profitable economic activities. In the coming world – that is here already! – of the informational economy (and culture), the audio-visual sector will play a pivotal role. But cinema and audio-visual media are also providers of popular and more serious culture, and thus play many other important non-economic roles. Popular culture is an increasingly important instrument of socialisation, personal, cultural, ethnical, political, sexual … So it is legitimate to insist that certain part of the “market cake” should be reserved for local, national, regional culture, primarily for cultural, but also for other reasons. What is culturally functional for US audiences is not necessarily also functional for the audiences of the rest of the world, and the present media market is surely not so fair, that we can naively claim that the audiences are freely making their own choice and buying the product of that choice.
If it is the case that this segment of mass culture fulfills an important public interest, it is fair to demand that media market should be regulated by that public interest. On that basis, nations have every reason to resist the attempts of the American government to include the audiovisual media under the rubric of “free trade” and to eliminate the public interest, as a reason to regulate this particular market. As it says on the Ingmar Bergman’s puppet theatre in his film Fanny and Alexander: This is not for entertainment only!
The crucial question is: are or are not films, as mass culture products, solely entertainment commodities? The answer is, of course, that they are more than just commodities. Then we may conclude that we need national (or regional, or local), films (visions), and in order to have them, we need national (or local, or regional) film policy.
Let us not delude ourselves into believing the national might not be the most important aspect, even if it is the case that other identities may transcend national ones. Even if national identity necessarily is of a minor, and sometimes questionable importance, it is only the state that may still have the necessary power to implement appropriate film policy, as part of a national cultural policy. We should keep in mind that we are contesting powerful multi- and supra-national corporations, often assisted by the only remaining super power state.
Nations will assert their interest only if they have a clearly articulated political will to do that. Who can articulate that will? Who can lobby for it? I think that I am not exaggerating if I say that it is us, critics `and scholars, film makers and film teachers who have the responsibility do that. Who else is there?
The Ebeltoft conference was highly informative to me, because it more-or-less clearly demonstrated the place of national cinemas between the ever present threat of the globalized “Hollywood” industry and its own aesthetic, cultural, local, national or regional ambitions. It emerged clearly, I hope, that the formula of a universal story for global audiences serves perfectly globalized Hollywood’s legitimate goal of making money.
Film as expression and a moulder of local, regional or national culture (vision), film as art, is surely not global in the Hollywood sense. It is global in a different way.. It becomes global and universal only on the level of artistic quality. The history of film art does not consist of globalized Hollywood product designed for a universal market. In fact such products are as a rule ignored by history of film art, eliminated from it. What becomes film history and thus truly global and universal, are films as expressions of local (regional, national) culture, including American, with high, and therefore universal aesthetic quality.
Such cinema needs protection. There is no doubt about that. The question is only what kind of protection. Here there is a difference between the American, or perhaps English- speaking independent producer and director and others. American independent producers or directors can gamble on being chosen by a major global distributor. Others can’t, so they will likely get protection from the state, not necessarily in the form of subsidies, but surely by some kind of special conditions imposed on the market. The fact that protection can also spoil film makers by removing their concern for the audience, does not change the core argument. There are some examples of effective film policies in the world: Denmark, especially at this very moment, and other Scandinavian states, Ireland, Australia, France, Canada, for example. … There are many unfortunate examples of no film policy, of what of happens if the a totally free market prevails. There are so many that it is of no use even to mention them.
It was interesting to see during Ebeltoft interventions how we are influenced in our attitude towards national “visions” in the context of global according to our place and power on the world cinema market. Americans seem to be, by and large, supporters of free and unrestricted market, and that goes even for US independent producers. Consequently they do not feel much for “national visions” either. Europeans are more in favour of the national cinemas and regulated markets. Indians are happy with their domination of domestic cinema on the home market and do not find the subject relevant or pressing. They have do deal with the same problem within India itself, where Bollywood in India plays the role of globalized Hollywood in the world. Ibero- Americans on the contrary, see the issue of national culture and with it national film as a highly pressing matter. In their minds globalisation, also in the film area, is perceived as just another form of (also cultural) colonisation.
By and large I believe the conference has suggested some extremely important issues to reflect (and act)upon.
Ljubljana, Decembe 2000
(published in CILECT news)
P.S. Žal ni nihče v Sloveniji poslušal key note speakerja v Ebeltoftu na Danskem leta 2000. (Nihče v Sloveniji tudi ni podprl njegove aktivne vloge v mednarodnem prostoru, čeprav je deset let, dokler se ni utrudil, brez domače podpore ostal v upravnem odboru CILECT, in pridobil za Slovenjo nekaj deset tisoč $ in pripadajočega ugleda). Pri nas sta med tem bila v modi ( v Financah in Sobotni prilogi) Mičo Mrkaić in Samo Rugelj. Sicer bi v Sloveniji danes (2017) lahko imeli popolnoma drugačno medijsko politiko in kulturo.