Beyond the Third Cinema: Self-Reflective Cinematic Colonialism in Even the Rain
The promise of human rights cinema is to influence real positive changes by making audiences aware of problems, conflicts, and other issues throughout the world. By turning the camera lens to the places and onto the events in which full human rights are withheld, filmmakers can influence real change. A single image of a person suffering can evoke powerful emotional responses, so a rapid sequence of 24 images per second should be able to evoke even more emotion. But, as Susan Sontag notes, the power of images is not quite so cut-and-dry: “Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle!”[i] Sontag wrote about photography, but the problematic nature of capturing images with the intent of promoting human rights is similar for motion pictures as well. Indeed, human rights cinema does have the potential to bring awareness to suffering and inequality, and possibly bring about positive change for marginalized individuals. Many human rights NGOs promise to bear witness to human rights violations and by doing so promote change and progress. But at the same time, human rights cinema is not really for those marginalized people; yes, it promotes awareness of their issues, but it is ultimately targeted at privileged audiences in large, rich, and developed nations. The distance–in both space and time–between the audience that is bearing witness and the individual that is being witnessed means that it is a trivial manner to look away from the image, to not pay attention, and to ultimately forget it.[ii] I argue that because of this power relationship–between viewers of human rights cinema and the subjects of human rights cinema–we must consider whom is actually being served by the medium. This is somewhat of an uneasy question, as it opens up the possibility that the mere act of creating human rights films actually re-creates and reinforces the exploitation of these marginalized groups, despite filmmakers’ intention to influence actual change. In what I describe as cinematic colonialism, it is not just those who are suffering that receive benefits from human rights cinema, and in many cases it’s actually the filmmakers and film audiences who benefit more than the subject. Under cinematic colonialism, powerful and wealthy nations, through transnational co-productions, capture images of marginalized and minority groups in poorer parts of the world, ripping those subjects from their original contexts and placing them onto screens to be looked upon by international audiences.
However, in recent years a new style of filmmaking has emerged that challenges this one-sided power relationship of cinematic colonialism. While there will likely always be some level of disparity between film subject and film viewer, I argue that it is possible for transnational film productions, and for human rights cinema in particular, to engage in produce self-reflective cinematic colonialism. Though the disparity may always be present, the mere act of acknowledging it can be useful in ensuring that human rights cinema is able to serve both its subjects and its viewers. Drawing upon the revolutionary Latin American film manifestoes of the late 20th century, I suggest that this new mode of transnational film production challenges cinema studies to move beyond to notion of third cinema and open the possibility for a fourth cinema to take hold. I define the fourth cinema as one that acknowledges the reality of globalization, but while continuing to emphasize and advocate for local and national level issues. The fourth cinema envisions transnational film productions as more than just the flow of cash across borders, but the spread of culture, ideas, and stories as well. In the famous cinema manifesto of 1970, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino offered third cinema as an ideal that filmmakers could aim toward as a means to push back against the stronghold of Hollywood imperialism (the first cinema) and European art house cinema (the second cinema) to create “films of decolonization.”[iii] However, my position is that the reality of globalized film production, as well as the persistence of cinematic colonialism underscore the need to move beyond the third cinema and welcome the development of a fourth cinema. Only then can human rights cinema fully serve both its viewers and its subjects.
Tambien la Lluvia (Even the Rain, Icíar Bollain 2010) does not fully embody all of these characteristics of fourth cinema, but nonetheless underscores the need to move beyond third cinema and recognize the inevitable transnationalism of contemporary cinema. Even the Rain was screened at the 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival,[iv] and brings awareness of the ongoing marginalization of the native Quechua, and the lingering effects of colonization in Latin America. As a human rights film, Even the Rain suggests that the same story of colonization continues to unfold in Latin America, even into the 21st century; the only difference is that now, rather than gold being taken by white colonizers, it is water. Even the rain, we are told, can be withheld from local populations and brought under the control of private enterprises. Even the Rain contains many narrative layers–a film within a film about the conquest of Christopher Columbus, shooting the behind-the-scenes features of that film, and the modern day context of the 2000 Cochabamba Water War. Through the overlap and intersection of these narrative layers, director Icíar Bollain suggests that the exploitation of Latin America still exists, even into the 21st century. Most notably, Bollain’s work highlights the inherent problematic nature of film production, with disturbing similarities between Columbus’ maltreatment of the native population and the film production’s treatment of its extras, most of whom are also indigenous people.
The fact that Bollain is willing to at least partially point the finger at herself, and acknowledge the exploitative aspects of filmmaking, positions Even the Rain as a new kind of human rights cinema. The production contexts of this film do still perpetuate some of the problematic and exploitative aspects of cinematic colonialism, but its narrative at least begins to acknowledge an unpack these complexities. The fact that Bollain is self-reflective about the filmmaking process itself, and overtly admits the exploitative realities of her cinema within Even the Rain’s multi-faceted narrative gestures toward the potential of a fourth cinema. Even the Rain may not fully be the embodiment of fourth cinema, but it nonetheless demonstrates the possibility of moving beyond the third cinema and the isolationism of Latin American cinema.
Latin American Cinema is largely defined by the multitude of film manifestos that were written by prominent filmmakers in various nations throughout the continent. These manifestos defined the motivations and techniques that eventually came to develop Latin American Cinema into a film style that was unique and distinguished from the dominance of American and European film markets. In “Toward a Third Cinema,” Solanas and Getino propose using the cinema medium to influence actual social change that serves all the people of Latin America, and does more than simply appeal to commercial ends.[v] They call for the development of a unique style of film that is different from the first and second cinemas, which they define as the commercially motivated films of Hollywood and the auteur-centric art films from Europe, respectively., the primary focus is on the decolonization of culture. In the context of cinema, decolonization refers to the act of breaking free from the influence of foreign superpowers, especially in terms of cultural dominance. Film could be used as a powerful medium to promote the interests of each individual nation, and bring to national attention important local issues, such as inequality, injustice, and poverty, and being to influence actual social change. Film should serve the interests of everyone; Ideally, the technology to create films and tell stories should be available to as many people as possible.
One of the most significant examples of third cinema is La hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino 1968). Unlike commercially-motivated Hollywood films, it is very “in-your-face” with its political message, and directly appeals to the people of Argentina, instead of focusing on the individual directors (Schroeder 178). This direct appeal is made apparent immediately in The Hour of the Furnaces’ highly evocative title sequence. The high contrast of white text on black, written in short sentences that rapidly flash across the screen speaks directly to the Latin American audience. Declarations such as “Latin America. The great unfinished nation,” and “to be free there is only one choice. Put the people in power” are intercut with images of police violence, and throughout the title sequence a constant rhythmic and disjointed drumming dominates the soundscape. These direct emotional appeals underscore third cinema’s emphasis on the decolonization of Latin American film, and its candid willingness to tackle political and national issues. These cinematic characteristics eventually spread throughout the continent to become important defining characteristics of Latin American film. The concept of decolonization and the democratization of filmmaking are important characteristics of third cinema, and as such this mode of filmmaking also called for Latin American cinema to be wholly independent from foreign film markets.
Third cinema, as well as other similar manifestoes, defined Latin American cinema for much of the latter half of the twentieth century. Eventually, these cinematic tendencies coalesced into the contemporary definitions of New Latin American Cinema. Much of the scholarship on New Latin American Cinema has contrasted the film industries of Latin America with the dominance of Hollywood film, and considered the ongoing influence of the first and second cinemas.[vi] However, as Stephen Hart notes, the efficacy New Latin American Cinema would continue to be debated, especially as contemporary films were financed more by private capital rather than through state funding.[vii] Despite the desire to position Latin American cinema as a wholly independent film, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the inevitability of foreign influence and the continuing trend of transnational film production. Especially given films such as Even the Rain which explicitly touch on human rights and attempt to bring those issues to foreign audiences, third cinema’s insistence on resisting the globalizing forces of cinema seem less applicable. The unrelenting march of globalization famously prompted Néstor García Canclini to question whether Latin American Cinema could exist past the year 2000.[viii] to However, Bollain’s work suggests that Latin American Cinema can exist, and that it does not necessarily have to exist as a wholly independent thing, and by extension asserts that cinema surrounding human rights can serve both its subjects–the Bolivians who actually lived through the water crisis–as well as its viewers–international audiences being exposed to those issues. In this way, Even the Rain gestures toward the possibility of a fourth cinema as a better model of transnational cinema production. Solanas and Getino argued that third cinema was something that filmmakers should move toward, but in the 21st century third cinema has become something that ought to be moved beyond.
Even the Rain centers around Spanish director Sebastian and his producer Costa as they create a film about Christopher Columbus’ arrival in Latin America. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the production’s tight budget has pushed them to shoot in the Bolivian Andes, and to hire native Quechua people as extras for their cheap labor. Costa states that “this place is full of starving natives. And that means thousands of extras.”[ix] While Sebastian does raise initial concerns of these inaccuracies, he remains willing to make whatever concessions are necessary in order to be able to produce his film. However, Sebastian does contradict himself at times when trying to balance his insistence on accuracy with pragmatic decisions to ensure the film can actually be financed. As the Even the Rain begins, the tension between Sebastian and Costa in terms of historical accuracy is immediately brought up. Sebastian explains that it does not make any sense for Columbus to have encountered indigenous people who are clearly from the Andes. While defending the decision to shoot in Bolivia, Costa suggests that the budget might not have been as limited if they had chosen to shoot the film in English rather than in Spanish. In terms of historical accuracy, ensuring that Columbus peaks Spanish was important, but the language and background of the indigenous people being colonized was merely an afterthought. In this sense, the indigenous Quecha people that appear in Sebastian and Costa’s film are nothing more than props, mere objects placed within a cinematic context to be presented to international audiences. This process reinforces the power relationship inherent within cinema; the subject in front of the camera must be looked upon, while the person and audience on the other side of the camera are empowered to do the looking.[x] Even human rights cinema, which aims to serve the subjects in front of the camera, still serves those who are in a position to be watching.
Throughout Even the Rain, Bollain quite overtly draws parallels between Columbus’ original conquest with the modern day control of Boliva’s water supply by foreign business interests.[xi] Water has become the new gold, a comparison that is emphasized by cutting directly from scenes within Sebastian and Costa’s film to the modern day streets of Cochabamba and the local population digging a well to secure their water supply. The rapid jumps between narratives transcend the boundaries of both space and time, emphasizing the same stories of colonization that continue to take place in Latin America in the 21st century. For example, we are shown a line of indigenous people in period-accurate costumes waiting to deliver gold to Columbus’ men. When they are unhappy with the quantity of gold that one man has brought, the Spaniards pull him aside and prepare to be “clipped.” A young girl screams as the axe swings down, and at this moment Bollain cuts to show the same sequence, but within a movie theater. The recently shot scene is being screened to Sebastian, Costa, and a handful of the actors. This reinforces the work of objectification that if performed by cinema. Just as Columbus’ conquest looked upon the people and land of Latin America as mere resources to be exploited, Bollain’s temporal and spatial jumps throughout Even the Rain ascribe similar aspects to her own cinematic work. Though human rights cinema aims to assist people in need, Even the Rain echoes Sontag’s notion that the act of placing a subject in front of a camera turns them into an object that can be possessed, something for an audience to gaze upon.[xii] Through the multi-faceted narrative, Bollain calls upon spectators of human rights cinema to consider the ways that those behind the camera can benefit from film in ways that its subjects may be unable to do so. This level of self-reflectivity is unique to Even the Rain and positions it as a film that pushes all of human rights cinema past the ideals of the third cinema and suggests the possibility of a fourth cinema.
As if Even the Rain did not already have enough layers of narrative complexity, Bollain continues to draw parallels between the initial colonization of Latin America and the modern day by positioning the film within a film alongside the contemporary human rights issue of access to water within Bolivia. Sebastian and Costa’s star actor, Daniel, is a local activist and becomes heavily involved in protests over the privatization of the water supply and the rapid rise in water prices in Cochabamba. Fearful of the negative consequences it may have on their film, they try to convince Daniel to become less politically active. At one point, Costa directly pays Daniel to stop leading protests for the duration of the film’s shooting. Daniel takes the bribe, but continues his involvement nonetheless, eventually requiring Costa to negotiate his release with the local police. The continued development of the Cochabamba Water War and the ensuing violence escalate to the point that the film crew chooses to abandon the project and leave the country. Despite Sebastian and Maria’s protests, Costa has a last-minute change of heart, and accompanies Daniel’s wife Teresa as they drive through the violence-stricken streets of Cochabamba to search for her and Daniel’s daughter.
The process of cinematic mediation is emphasized through the character of Maria, the assistant director who is continually depicted with digital camera in hand, as she shoots the film’s behind-the-scenes features. This production footage is presented within Even the Rain it its handheld, grainy, and black and white form which serves as a reminder to the audience of the process of mediation that is taking place. While the film does bring us the testimony and stories of those who lived through Bolivia’s water crisis, we are nonetheless reminded of our positionality as audience members; we may feel like better global citizens for becoming more informed about Cochabamba, but we are not actually there, and we can look away whenever we like. The mediation is also emphasized during moments that Maria does not capture–whether by her own choice, or when Sebastian physically pushes the camera away. Cinema can never give us the full image or story, and thus can never wholly serve its subjects.
Nonetheless, Even the Rain and its depiction of the Cochabamba Water War should not be entirely discounted. Even though it does only provide a brief snapshot of the events that unfolded in Bolivia in 2000, this is still significant for bringing the testimony and description of those events to wider international audiences. The Bolivian water crisis is a highly complicated, and multi-faceted problem that erupted into social protest and violence in 2000.[xiii] Under pressure from the international community, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Bolivia underwent many significant political changes around the turn of the century. In order to continue qualifying for monetary loans to support its economic recovery, Bolivia had been required to privatize many of its utilities and industries.[xiv] However, when control over Cochabamba’s municipal water supply was being transferred from the state agency SEMAPA to the international consortium Aguas del Tunari, local citizens found themselves facing price increases upwards of 300% and restrictions on private individuals digging their own wells. This triggered widespread protest, a general strike, and an eventual shutdown of the entire city for several days.[xv] After days of violence, including one instance of a Bolivian Army captain killing a protestor, the Bolivian police eventually told Aguas del Tunari that their safety could not be guaranteed, prompting the international consortium to flee the city and SEMAPA resumed control of the municipal water supply.[xvi] The Cochabamba Water War eventually prompted the United Nations to formally define “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”[xvii] However there is still much debate as to whether the right to water has been fully realized as a human right, even within Bolivia where the issue emerged.[xviii] Furthermore, Even the Rain only provides a cursory overview of the Bolivia water crisis, despite ostensibly claiming to provide a depiction of the Cochabamba Water War. While the film does include Daniel’s involvement as one of the protest’s leaders, and certainly depicts the violence that swept over the city of Cochabamba, it is still only a brief snapshot of the complex and nuanced nature of the water crisis. Very little of the historical context makes its way into Even the Rain, and the role of politics and the government is largely limited to an exchange that Sebastian and Costa have with Cochabamba’s governor, and the brief suggestion that everyone is on a tight budget, so the water price increases are inevitable. Thus, while Even the Rain does bring the testimony and depiction of the Bolivian water crisis, it is merely a brief snapshot of that history. As a human rights film, it only serves the actual Cochabamba protestors to a small extend. Yes, human rights cinema is meant to serve those groups, but I contend that we must also acknowledge that they are not the only beneficiaries. However, the mere fact that those behind the camera–filmmakers and film audiences–benefit from human rights cinema as well should not be taken as a call to discount the practice of producing human rights films entirely. Indeed, Even the Rain nonetheless brings the images and stories that may have gone unwatched to international audiences.
Within the film, the inclusion of actual footage of the Cochabamba protests is significant. Members of the film within a film’s crew are shown watching the violence unfold through television news clips. Much as the crew watches from the safety of their hotel rooms, the audiences of Even the Rain experience the Cochabamba Water War in relative safety as well. However, the decision to use real footage from the protests within the film is important, and demonstrates the ability of human rights cinema to spread images that may not have otherwise ever achieved such widespread dissemination.[xix] Yet Bollain’s decision to incorporate this actual footage within Even the Rain through the safety and distance of television screens reiterates the ability of filmmakers, and by extension the film audience, to look away. This film may indeed push Latin American film beyond the third cinema, but reminds us that even as we move toward a potential fourth cinema, the power relationship of transnational film production persists. The subjects of the film live in the reality of their situation, whereas those behind the camera are free to avert their gaze.
In another act of self-reflection on Even the Rain’s enactment of cinematic colonialism, Bollain frequently places her characters safely within moving vehicles so that even when they are exposed to the violence of the Cochabamba Water War, it is only seen through an “automobilic gaze.” They are presented and immersed in the human rights situation within Bolivia, but are empowered to leave at any time, just as viewers of human rights cinema are able to look away from issues of human rights in a way that the film subjects are unable to do so. The automobilic gaze is most apparent in the film’s final sequence. The film crew is stopped at a military roadblock, but wait in the safety of their vans. They are placed in stark contrast to an open truck of prisoners parked just a short distance away. The film crew watches, but through the windows of their vehicles, an invisible barrier that not only provides protection but also provides further distance between the foreign crew and the local Bolivians. Ultimately, the majority of the crew, thanks to their foreign connections and made apparent through the automobilic gaze, make the choice to abandon the project and leave the nation entirely. Even though Costa chooses to remain in Bolivia and help Daniel’s family, he too is benefitted by the distance and protection of the automobilic gaze. In Even the Rain’s final scene, Costa sits in the back seat of a taxi holding a small vial of water that Daniel gave him as a parting gift. He whispers “yaku,” the Quecha word for water as he gazes out the window onto the Cochabamba streets. Although some scholars consider this scene as evidence of Costa’s transformation into the “good guy,” the fact that he remains within the safety of the vehicle, and cannot even hear the sounds of the street has led Elisabeth Austin to use this scene as a direct challenge to the “social value of empathy from a distance.”[xx] Bollain’s ending to Even the Rain is certainly ambiguous, but nonetheless emphasizes the self-reflectivity that is enacted throughout the film. By considering the potential lingering aspects of colonialism that exist not just within Latin America, but throughout cinema as well, Bollain’s work suggests the possibility of moving beyond the third cinema and into a new mode of transnational film production.
The reality of cinematic colonialism is suggested throughout Even the Rain and the parallels that it draws between Columbus’ conquest and 21st century cinema. Bollain pushes the audience to consider the fact that the exact same story of colonization still exists in Cochabamba in 2000, and continues into the 21st century. This repetition of colonization is made explicit in a pivotal scene, during which Daniel specifically confronts Costa about his positionality. Daniel overhears Costa while he is on the phone with one of the film’s financial backers. Believing that Daniel can only speak Spanish and Quechua, Costa boasts in English about how he has been able to only pay the native extras as little as $2 per day, which he describes as “really fucking great.” Daniel reveals that he has learned English from his time working construction in the United States, and says to Costa, “I know this story.” Bollain does not shy away from the fact that Even the Rain is meant to be a direct commentary on the lingering effects of colonialism, and the fact that the “same story” continues to play out in Latin America. From the giant wooden cross being flown across Cochabamba, to reenactment of Columbus’ conquest in the actors’ script table read at a posh hotel, Bollain’s work is overt in its suggestion that the “same story” of colonization is being repeated, and by extension calls into question whom all is truly served by human rights cinema.
Perhaps there is not exactly a satisfying answer to this question. Whom actually benefits from human rights films? While the promise of these films certainly is that its subjects, those actually suffering human rights violations, will be the ones to benefit the most, the self-reflectivity of Even the Rain leads to the uneasy conclusion that it is those behind the camera–filmmakers and film audiences–that stand to benefit as well. Despite the lack of a definitive answer to this question, the mere fact that it is beginning to be considered is nonetheless a good sign for the future of human rights cinema. It is crucial to acknowledge the potential power of cinema, and recognize that cameras serve as a mechanism that can transform actual people into subjects that are to be consumed. Rather than hide from these facts, Bollain confronts them head-on in Even the Rain, which is why this film acts a signpost that may point us toward what lies beyond the notion of third cinema.
Even the Rain might not fully take us into the future and fully into a fourth cinema, but it certainly demonstrates that such a development is possible. Fourth cinema acknowledges the realities and inevitability of transnational film production. Due to the globalization of the modern world, it is entirely unrealistic to suggest that a cinema can ever fully exist independently and within the borders of a single nation. But rather than looking at transnational production as simple flows of cash between nations, fourth cinema posits that flows of culture are significant as well. Even the Rain’s production contexts position it as a great example of what transnational filmmaking can look like.[xxi] Beyond enabling directors, actors, and cultural stories to flow across borders, fourth cinema’s perhaps most important component is the degree of self-reflectivity. Cinema must be self-aware of its own potential exploitative nature, and acknowledge all potential effects–whether good or bad. To this end, Bollain’s work suggests that human rights cinema may not be exclusively for its subjects, and through its self-reflectivity, suggests other parties that may benefit from it as well. However, by moving beyond third cinema and toward the fourth, filmmakers may indeed be able to begin to balance this dynamic through increased self-reflectivity and new modes of transnational film production.
[i] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York, N.Y: Picador, 2004), 77.
[ii] Samuel Moyn, Human Rights and the Uses of History (Verso, 2014).
[iii] Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, “Toward a Third Cinema,” Cinéaste 4, no. 3 (1970): 1–10, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41685716.
[iv] Human Rights Watch, “Even the Rain,” Human Rights Watch Film Festival, 2012, https://ff.hrw.org/content/even-rain-0.
[v] Getino and Solanas, “Toward a Third Cinema.”
[vi] Stephen M. Hart, Latin American Cinema (London: Reaktion Books, 2015); Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez, Latin American Cinema: A Comparative History (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2016).
[vii] Hart, Latin American Cinema, 108.
[viii] Néstor García Canclini, “Will There Be Latin American Cinema in the Year 2000? Visual Culture in a Postnational Era,” in Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed. Ann Marie Stock (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
[ix] Elisabeth Austin, “Consuming Empathy in También La Lluvia (2010),” Chasqui 46, no. 2 (November 2017): 313–29.
[x] Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
[xi] Fabrizio Cilento, “‘Even the Rain’: A Confluence of Cinematic and Historical Temporalities,” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 16 (2012): 245–57, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43855376.
[xii] Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
[xiii] Madeline Baer, “From Water Wars to Water Rights: Implementing the Human Right to Water in Bolivia,” Journal of Human Rights 14, no. 3 (July 3, 2015): 353–76, https://doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2014.988782.
[xv] Willem Assies, “David versus Goliath in Cochabamba,” Latin American Perspectives 30, no. 3 (2003): 14, https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X03252286.
[xvii] United Nations General Assembly resolution 64/292, “The Human Right to Water and Sanitation,” July 28, 2010, http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml.
[xviii] Baer, “From Water Wars to Water Rights.”
[xix] Beatriz Tadeo Fuica and Sarah Barrow, “(In)Visible Cinemas: Reusing Archival Footage in Latin American Cinema,” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 13, no. 1 (2015): 3–8, https://doi.org/10.1386/ncin.13.1.3_7.
[xx] Austin, “Consuming Empathy in También La Lluvia (2010),” 314.
[xxi] Isabel Santaolalla, The Cinema of Iciar Bollain, 1. publ (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2012).