Beyond Hollywood: 
The Thematic Richness of Films Created Outside
the Boundaries of Mainstream American Cinema

Winter 2019

Vol. 19 no. 1

The four articles in this winter 2019 issue of The Projector persuasively document that independent cinema across the globe, by filmmakers whose fiction and non-fiction work reflects a resilient independent perspective, contributes greatly to cinema as a sophisticated art form and an effective vehicle of progressive cultural communication. As contributor Frank P. Tomasulo notes, “whether in the U.S. or internationally” films are seen as independent due to economic, thematic, and/or aesthetic considerations. The intensely interesting films examined in this issue emerge from considerably different production contexts, and vary notably in their relationship to Hollywood filmic conventions, yet they share a thematic independence. As Tomasulo further observes, in the world of cinema, thematic independence “means focusing on innovative social issues and/or off-beat subject matter, including within various national cinemas, representations of ethnic and other groups, unusual perspectives on conventional thinking, and the personal and/or ideological expression of the filmmaker.” The films at the center of the four authors’ thoughtful, wide-ranging studies share this alternative, non-mainstream common ground. 

--Cynthia Baron, Editor

Migrations into Servitude: From Kerala to Saudi in Kamal’s Malayalam Film, Gadhama

by Shreerekha Pillai Subramanian

This essay provides an illuminating account of Mollywood or Malayalam cinema, the fourth largest film industry in India, located in Kerala, the southernmost state of India. It focuses on the 2011 film Gadhama, also known as Khaddama, a term related to the Arabic word “khadima” meaning servant, with “khaddama” used to address domestic workers from non-Arab countries. This comprehensive analysis shows how the film “draws on the neo-realism of Kerala’s ‘New Cinema’ and a deeply Malayalee ‘rasa’ . . . of sentimentality.” It sheds light on the “Malayalee migrant labor diaspora that [has] moved back and forth between the homeland and various cities on the Arabian Gulf.” It also provides an incisive examination of “the Kafala system of sponsorship practiced by GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council),” which involves the often overlooked reality of “worker indenture-hood and immobilization.”

Richard Linklater and Jim Strouse: Two Independent American Directors Who Embrace Genderless Feminist Ideas

by Tamara Hammond

Focusing on Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013) and The Incredible Jessica James (Strouse, 2017), this essay examines representations of characters and couples who cross “boundaries, either racial or national.” Hammond observes that while women directors are generally responsible for creating films that explore female subjectivity, these case studies reveal that male directors are able to “express solid feminist points of view,” and that, in some instances, “gender boundaries could be transcended in favor of universal human rights.” Hammond concludes by contrasting progressive independent cinema with more than a century of the Hollywood films that perpetuate “women’s objectification and exploitation,” which, she argues, lead to “the endemic proportions of sexual harassment revealed in recent years [that] are indicative of the influence of mass media on society.”  

Unconnected Objects: Cultural and Collective Memory in Rea Tajiri’s History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige

by Madison Furrh

This essay explores Tajiri’s 1991 multilayered independent documentary about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It shows how Tariji’s film contributes to cultural memories and represents a response to American collective memory, which has erased events following the 1942 Executive Order that caused 122,000 Japanese Americans to be incarcerated. Furrh argues that the film both reveals the “gulf between history and memory—specifically, how World War II is remembered within the collective memories of Americans—and serves as a cultural “memory fragment that can survive the onslaught of history and forgetting.”

Independent Cinema: El Topo and the Midnight Movie Craze
by Frank P. Tomasulo

This essay focuses on the 1970 cult film favorite El Topo, by Chilean writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Tomasulo explains that El Topo, “like many independent films, had a niche target audience: college students, potheads, acid freaks, cineastes, and cult movie enthusiasts who were into ‘head’ pictures.” Highlighting that “El Topo is now generally recognized as igniting the midnight film movement,” he notes that it “sold out every night for months after it opened in 1970” at the Elgin Theatre in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. The article demonstrates that the film’s “ideas, images, and sounds [are often] a veritable blur of simultaneously ridiculous and sublime moments that defy ordinary readings while inviting viewers to participate in a dynamic and dialectical process of open interpretation.” It thus concludes: “beyond economics, theme, and style, that active spectatorship is also an important aspect of independent film.”