Published by Intellect Books of Bristol (UK) and Chicago (USA) in July 2008, Beyond Auteurism is a comprehensive study of nine film directors from France, Italy and Spain. Olivier Assayas, Luc Besson, Claire Denis, and Maurice Pialat from France, Gianni Amelio, Francesca Archibugi and Gabriele Salvatores from Italy, and Alejandro Amenabar and Victor Erice from Spain are some of the directors who have blurred the boundaries between art-house and mainstream, national and transnational film production. BETHSHEBA ACHITSA reviews the book.
The 288-page hard cover book aims at reconfiguring and redefining the role of the film author and advocating for the historical view of this person with regard to modes of film production and reception in the western European cinemas. In European Union countries, author cinema conventionally refers to specific sector of the film industry.
The figure of the film author in Italian Cinema is linked to both professional training and intellectual education. The authorship notion in the cinema signaled an attempt to demarcate individual agency and orientation within the plurality of practices related to film production, distribution, and reception.
In the 1950s when the film authorship was in its heydays, art film directors consolidated the European cinema’s prestige within international art house circuit. Film authorship emerged as a marketing value at various times and in different circumstances.
In France, educational film institutions remained the main points of reference for filmmakers seeking professional training. Film industry and television networks provided for the professional development of most emerging filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s. However, aspiring film authors through unofficial channels of apprenticeship could also receive basic training.
In Italy, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and the Venice Film Festival also took on a mainstream and a more pragmatic direction. Centro Sperimentale became a state institution, which was more oriented towards professionalism than artistic expression and experimentation. Many aspiring Italian filmmakers rather tried to make their debut by entering the film industry as assistant directors, ‘ghost’ screenwriters, film critics or cultural promoters.
Spanish cinema went through a period of total cultural isolation soon after the end of World War II, especially with the break of relationships between the regime and the foreign powers from 1946 to 1950s. The government restructured the film system according to a strongly nationalist orientation. Like in France and Italy, in Spain too film journals, cultural institutions and university circles determined the construction and diffusion of independent and often politically, radical film forms.
While examining how these filmmakers have maintained the dialectical relationship of the authorial tradition of their national cinemas, writer Rosanna Maule seeks to illustrate that the film author is not only the most important symbol of European cinema’s cultural tradition but also a crucial part of Europe’s efforts to develop its cinema within domestic and international film industries.
In western modern culture, authorship is associated with various theoretical approaches and socio cultural contexts. Thus the author is not only the person at the origin of an aesthetic manufacture but also the unifying principle in production, interpretation and reception of an artwork.
Maule suggests that the film author is an indicator through which theorists, critics and spectators attribute coherence and value to the corpus of a professional figure generally identified with the film director. She views the film author as sociology of production and a discursive function of socio-cultural practices related to cinema within specific periods and contexts.
Beyond Auteurism is divided into three segments, each dealing with a specific aspect of the professional and cultural definition of authorship in western cinemas since the 1980s.
While Section one illustrates the consolidation and the crisis of the authorial mode of production, Part two concentrates on the repositioning of the film author as a professional and symbolic figure within the audiovisual context and culture. The last part deals with women film-makers who dismiss the idea of a feminine or feminist perspective.
Anyone serving as a film producer, scriptwriter, actor/actress, reviewer, film theorist, film practitioners and academicians would find the book quite useful as it discusses the films and the ways in which the filmmakers understudy have made in the past.
In Africa the book not only provides one with examples of some of those film producers who have defied all odds and boundaries to become what they are, but it also offers them moments to think about their own careers.
As Assayas states, the relationship of the author to his film should be direct, unmediated by reflection, common sense or reason. Most of his films demonstrate that for a filmmaker, cinema is a medium capable of rendering the immediacy of the present, offering a way for people to synchronise with the scattered structure of present day life.
Through his works Assayas aims to convey the loss of spatial and temporal linearity in post-Euclidean culture and to render the vectorial nature of people’s interrelations and communications within new technologies and media-saturated environment.
In Kenya where screen-going culture is brought about by other factors and not necessitated by the filmmakers, aspiring filmmakers should learn to make films, which their audience can readily identify with. Just as Olivier Assayas did, the filmmakers should produce films, which render the immediacy of the present.
While many female filmmakers argue that gender is not a limiting factor, the number of female filmmakers who have ventured into film production scene suggests differently. Very few women have tried it in the film industry worldwide.
The rift observed in feminism and female directors is due to lack of feminist approaches in film criticism and the academia; general decline of political militancy both as an activity and as a theoretical approach since 1980s and the small output of female publications and films which tend to be polarised between ultra-chic presses.
According to statistics, women still have a long way before we can agree that the difference between a female filmmaker and a male is just that one is a man and the other a woman. By 2006 women accounted for only 15% of film directors, executive producers, film writers, cinematographers and film editors. To match their male counterparts it means that more women who make quality films should emerge.
Film critics and film reviewers are also important in bringing other countries to the map in film production. Beyond Auteriusm is probably a good documentation that will provide generations to come with sufficient information about the film industry in Italy, France and Spain.
As an associate professor of film studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of cinema, Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada, writer Maule seeks to educate and provide vital information to all around the globe. Through her notes at the end of each chapter, she seeks to give her readers more than enough.