Research and Reflections on
Material and Cultural Developments in Contemporary Cinema
Vol. 20 no. 2
In this issue, Emily Edwards contributes to cultural and material studies of cinema by examining a fraught source of funding for Palestinian films. Analyzing the Israel Film Fund, Edwards shows how governmental institutions have censored and silenced Palestinian filmmakers. Robert Gordon Joseph’s useful account of contemporary exploitation cinema contextualizes various “Katrina Exploitation” films produced after the hurricane. Locating key features of these and other modern exploitation films, Joseph provides insight into the cycle of films, stereotypical cultural narratives, and exploitation cinema’s engagement with controversial topics. Gary D. Rhodes traces changes in cinema-audience relationships created by the arrival of videocassette recorders in the 1970s. Identifying the pre- and post-home video era divide as pivotal, Rhodes reflects on emerging audience roles once the province of producers, exhibitors, and reviewers. Daniel E. Williams’s observations about If Beale Street Could Talk (2019) reveal how this filmic adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel illuminates the couple’s humanity and the sense in which romantic love itself is “a form of resistance” for African Americans.
--Cynthia Baron, Editor
The Israel Film Fund: Interstitial Production in Palestinian Cinema & Patterns of Israeli National Branding and Censorship
by Emily Lynell Edwards
While the scholarly conversation surrounding Palestinian cinema has focused particularly on questions of historical representation, collective memory, or the revolutionary potential of exilic cinema, the topic of the industrial production of Palestinian cinema has received far more limited attention. This article focuses on the relationship between the Israel Film Fund (IFF), a non-governmental organization that is funded by the Israeli Film Council under the Ministry of Culture, and Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers. Discussing several works that all received funding from the IFF, including Chronicle of a Disappearance (1997), Lemon Tree (2009), Villa Touma (2014), Tel Aviv on Fire (2018), and Foxtrot (2018), this article examines how the Israeli government, through its funding of the IFF, has engaged in filmic censorship. By applying an industry studies lens to production practices this article highlights how censorship in Israel involves not simply the altering or omission of politically sensitive content, but also includes forced categorization of films distributed internationally as “Israeli,” erasing Palestinian artistic contribution and ensuring the supremacy of Israeli cultural and commercial authority abroad.
Dead Bodies in Katrina Fridges: Moral Panic and Sleaze in Home Video Exploitation
by Robert Gordon Joseph
In the discourse surrounding exploitation cinema, most scholars conclude that the low-budget cinematic form is dead, undone by the erosion of its traditional theatrical outlets and the incorporation of the form’s conventions into mainstream cinema. However, rather than write off the existence of this form entirely, it is worth considering exploitation’s persistence within the modern low-budget, straight-to-video films that explicitly draw from the moral panics of their given eras, specifically through a sleazy narrative. Though “moral outrage” exploitation cinema is evident in the persistent low-budget films made about any given panic, this definition of exploitation is particularly compelling when considered through the lens of exploitation films made about New Orleans directly following Hurricane Katrina. The analysis of these films, especially the low-budget thriller Trapped in Katrina (Patrick Marrero, 2009), reveal that exploitation films not only continue to exist, but comment on social controversies with sleazy perspectives still unique to the exploitation form.
“Hit the Pause Button”: Controlling Time, Controlling Film
by Gary D. Rhodes
While many eras and evolutions are crucial in film history, the most important is likely the advent and proliferation of home video. During the first eight decades of the cinema, audiences had extremely limited control over the content and schedule of film exhibitions. Scholars had to rely on their memories of screenings from days, weeks, or even years past. Home video forever altered and corrected that problem, transferring power into the hands of an audience who could review and re-view selected films at the time and venue of their choosing. This paradigmatic shift transformed the viewer into an exhibitor and projectionist, operating a home theater relying on physical (and, later, virtual) property that had once been illegal to own. The new viewer became a cinematic time traveler, one who bested a time-based art, controlling film by use of the ability to rewind, fast-forward, and pause.
What is Black Love?: An Introduction to If Beale Street Could Talk
by Daniel E. Williams
In this invited essay, one filmmaker sheds light on the work of another. Here, Daniel E. Williams, who received his MFA from Howard University, reflects on Barry Jenkin’s 2019 adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel set in 1970s New York. Williams presented these remarks at the Tuesday Night Film Series on March 3, 2020 at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.