05 octobre 2011

Presumptuous Best Film in the World

- Cultural Diversity Awareness - 
How much do you know about "American cinema" (both sub-continents North and South)? How much do you know about "European cinema"? How much do you know about "Asian cinema"? How much do you know about "African cinema"? How much do you know about "cinema from the Middle East"? How much do you know about "cinema from Oceania"?

From the statistics I could gather on 80 countries of the biggest cinema producers in the world, there was about 6700 (and over, because the other 116 countries were not surveyed) films produced in 2008 (or closest year when data not available). This is roughly equivalent to 10000 hours of viewing (if we consider an average run time of 90 minutes), which is almost 420 days of back-to-back screenings non-stop, more days than there are in a year! (However, this number might be slightly inflated by the redundancy of certain co-productions, see graph at the bottom)
This is a lot more than any one given individual critic or movie goer watches during a year. Let alone the fact that it takes sometimes several years for a film to get distributed commercially, thus appearing publicly long after their year of production, wherein they should be counted. But as a general rule, we could say there are about 5000-6500 films made each year, at least, and this number is in constant growth over the years. This is considerable!

How many of these films are distributed on the commercial market? Well, sensibly less than the total world production. There is no country on Earth where we could see the totality of world cinema in commercial cinemas, or in any other forms of projections (festival, museum, film markets, professional screenings, DVDs, black market...). The graph above shows the number of film titles distributed on the commercial circuit of movie theatres, the sum of all weekly batches of releases, which include the limited releases restricted to a few cities sometimes. India leads the pack, mostly because of its domestic production (also topping the world ranking), although split between quasi-self-exclusive sub-markets dedicated to each its own language (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi...). India should be considered as a fragmented market and not a global circuit of theatres (but number of releases for each sub-market was not available). Belgium (775) and Japan (762) show the largest number of films (15 new releases each week on average), the former only having to screen 64 domestic titles, the latter reserving 418 slots for its domestic production. France (588) and the USA (558) follow, with the same discrepancy in domestic share, 240 for the former, 520 for the latter, leaving a very different room for foreign film distribution. With the films-for-TV and direct-to-video, and shelving, even a given country doesn't release ALL its domestic production. And as far as foreign films distribution, Hollywood titles are the ones filling up most of the foreign share, because they are the most popular and most profitable for the domestic exhibitors. So overall, Hollywood cinema is probably the best represented in all markets of the world (owning close to 80% of the world market every year). These are the films (at least for its most famous titles) that everyone has seen, average movie goer or hardcore cinéphile alike. The American cinema doesn't suffer from underexposure, because it is forcefully supported by the American government and its commercial/military pressures. 

It is physically impossible for a single person to see them all, yet, the milieu of movie reviewers, professional or amateur, lacks not of pundits who know which are the "best films of the year" and will tell everyone about it. If you're an avid movie-goer, you might see some 400 films a year, even though they can't all be recent productions, some are revival or repeat viewing. That would be barely 6% of the total world production! Not everybody has time to watch that many anyway, most reviewers most likely watch up to a 100 new production per year (1.5% of the total world production), which overwhelming majority comes from either Hollywood or the domestic production of their own country. The awareness of world cinema remains essentially lacunary and random. Yet they don't feel no shame to come up with a "best of the year" list, every year, based on a random sampling of 1.5% !!! Nobody would take this kind of "expert study" seriously outside of the self-congratulatory world of movie reviewing. Do you realise that you're not even knowing the totality of the film production made in your own country every year?

So what exactly do you know about world cinema? Well you get to watch films that are available, and/or sufficiently visible to bother tracking down / checking out. That's when you realise that your exposure to world cinema is shaped up by exterior forces that limit your choice from a pre-selected catalog. And who makes these choices for you? Domestic distributors if you're a regular movie goer, festivals if you're a professional critic, film markets and international agents if you're a distributor, festival curators if you're a jury member. People make choices for you about what movies are the best to watch within this global package of 6700 films. Then, you get the feeling of a free choice when you elect your top10 amongst this pre-filtered sampling. This isn't a free choice at all, and certainly not representative of the complete diversity available in the world. So when you candidly bash the line up of festivals, when you say Cannes had a good/bad year, you have no clue whether they selected the wrong films or if there are neglected gems hidden elsewhere... because you never got to watch them yourself. You are totally dependent on people who make films available to you, your profession or your domestic market!!! You are not electing the "best film of the year", somebody else does it for you. And you don't even recognize/criticize the expertise of people who reduce (as a collective) the overwhelming quantity of 6700 films to a manageable hundreds from which to pick from.

Even in major festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin or Venice... a team of curators watch, during the few months of the submission period, over a thousand new films made in the world, which is a pretty good sample for a single event, and a small team of viewers. Unfortunately, most of these films are watched by all 3 festival committees  thus overlapping their prospective line up and generating schedule conflicts and battle for exclusivity. This said, these 3 international institutions are putting up a solid effort, at the level of their own capabilities, to try and cover most of what is important and vital to see and to screen, every year. However, the profession of film criticism in the world, as a whole, across all borders, which members largely outnumber the small festival committees could easily put out a bigger effort to cover MORE ground, as a group, sharing information, exchanging findings, exposing discoveries... while in fact, they watch LESS new films than what major festivals line up for them. They don't go out of their way to go track down themselves a young promising artist nobody heard about, to show the world that there are unsung heroes that are not showcased by majors festival... NO, yet they will bash festival for a "weak line up" that year. Festival reviewer is really a shameless profession!

That is why it is important for critics to be critical of the system that brings films to you, and leaves 94% of world production out. Even in France, we miss a lot of foreign films. But when you live in a country that shows as little foreign cinema as in the USA... and that you spend all your time bashing festivals and challenging auteurs... you're really out of your depth. Without festivals you wouldn't know that other countries made films outside Hollywood! And as I just said, even these festivals never show you the totality of world diversity, but they do a better job than your local distribution market, or the coverage of the American press!

Did you know that other countries in the world, outside Hollywood, made films too? Have you seen ALL films from these countries before electing this elusive “Best film” of the year, or coining phrases like "the Romanian wave is over", or stereotyping the style of a certain national cinema after seeing a dozen films in 5 years from that country? Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
Following numbers for 2008 or 2009. Total number of films surveyed in the world for one year : at least 6691.

HOW MANY OF THEM HAVE YOU SEEN ???? HOW MANY HAVE BEEN DISTRIBUTED IN YOUR COUNTRY? And this is the production of only one year, there is about the same amount coming up again EVERY YEAR !!!

The last number for 2008 might be slightly overinflated because the tabulation used disparate sets of datas, and could repeat redundant co-produced films, counted by separate countries... But the other numbers were surveyed by the UNESCO, so we're close to 5000, at the minimum.

If you live within the USA, chances are you didn't see any of these distributed in a theatre near you, because American distributors only squeeze in a few foreign films on a handful of screens at the time, resulting in only 5 to 8% of the admissions market. (See: Foreign friendly audiences). Are distributors not bothering to give a decent distribution because the taste of the American audience doesn't welcome an aesthetic "too different" from the Hollywood format? Or is it because of the shortage of foreign films available that they make a poor box office return? I wonder how you could predict the potential turnout of a film, when it only opens on ONE SINGLE theatre in New York city! Not to mention that an audience exposed less and less each year to alternative offerings, will become desensitized and estranged after their taste has been numbed and conditioned to respond to only one kind of "entertainment", to the point where a Dan Kois would be allowed to publish in the NYT that challenging artfilms are just flat out repulsive, an offense to his narrow idiosyncratic taste in self-indulgent, jingoist desire for entertainment. Unfortunately, Americans cannot tell the difference between Art and Entertainment, and this is exactly what shapes up the American film culture essentially based on the commercial/entertainment imperative. 
Does it mean that world cinema sucks? Does it mean that there are no films outside of Hollywood that deserve to rival with the American-made entertainment on the international scene? That's what you would believe if you only read the national-centric American press. They never miss an opportunity to belittle foreign films for being "different" or "inferior", in wide sweeping stereotypes, attacking festival and "festival films", painting all foreign films as non-commercial and "boring", and gushing endlessly on the vanity of the Oscars... 
American critics don't get to watch foreign films in theatre, because they are hardly distributed there. They watch them on press screeners or imported DVDs, if they are curious enough to bother checking them out. The only glimpse at world cinema is brought home on a silver platter by international festivals, yet, ungratefully or mindlessly, they trash festivals every year! Basically, without film festivals there would be ZERO world cinema on the American land. And that's exactly what Hollywood wants, a captive audience ignorant of the possibility of an alternative choice in order to make sure they will consume whatever Hollywood puts out (in the absence of comparison, Hollywood's filmic achievements will look better), and make it easier to sell a bad remake of foreign cinema hits (since the original from a foreign country was never distributed there). This level of cultural isolationism could only be compared to the Soviet Union or the old China... Even China, today, has a market and an audience more open to foreign culture than the USA is. Is it normal that the "leader of the free world" would be so jingoist without the totalitarian regime that usually enforces such censorship against the will of the people? Nah, the American people freely chooses to flock around amusement fare, and insults real quality culture when they see it. From a business perspective, this is an ideal situation, studio executives and share holders applaud. 
What I find mind-boggling and appalling is that even "open-minded" cinéphiles and film critics in the USA don't see anything wrong about this for the state of world culture, not enough to rebel against it and speak out loud FOR alternative film culture within this entertainment-business dominated culture... The support for non-Hollywood cinema in the USA is so marginal within American culture that you sometimes wonder if it even exists. At least it is invisible on the statistical charts, and much lower, in any case, than in any other western democracies, in Europe or elsewhere. So Americans don't care about ranking last in this category? Won't they do anything about it, ever? Shouldn't critics living in such environment feel responsible about it and dedicate the few mediatic power they have to induce a change of opinion on the matter, little by little, year after, until a decent level of cultural openness has been reached? Instead of doing the redundant job of trade papers and entertainment magazines... Well it seems like this "Cultural Diversity Awareness" national month isn't raising much awareness at all within the American press or blogosphere.

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4 commentaires:

Noel Vera a dit…

Harry, thanks for mentioning the Philippines--I know gathering that data took extra effort. Wished you'd included the country in your graph, tho. But great job, overall.

HarryTuttle a dit…

The releases graph? If you have numbers for the number of titles (domestic + foreign) distributed in commercial theatres on the Philippines market in 2009 or around that year, let me know, I'll add it.

HarryTuttle a dit…

in 2000, UNESCO surveyed its 185 members and from the one who responded, determined that only 77 countries had a centralized documentation for the cinema industry (for reliable statistics). Also, 60 out of 102 film producing countries have a legal framework to protect intellectual property. [PDF]

always in the same survey (2000), the largest film-producing countries were (based on a 1988-1999 decade average):
- India (839)
- China + HK (469)
- Philippines (456)
- USA (385)
- Japan (238)

This decade average for 102 film-producing countries amounted to a total of 4383 films produced in the world (1988-1999)

in 2005, 88 out of 185 world countries never produced a single film in their history. [here]

HarryTuttle a dit…

"If I were playing by the usual rules, the contenders for my best of 2007 list would be drawn from the titles only millionaires could afford to promote. In that case, I would say 2007 was the worst year for new movies I could remember. But I’d be fudging, because I didn’t come close to seeing all the contenders.
Who did? Film Comment recently put together a list of eligible titles for its own annual poll. It’s 105 pages long, with roughly 23 films per page — more than 2,400 titles. “Major studios” released 119 films, or about one-twentieth of the total (I saw 33 of them), and 49 more came from “specialty divisions” (I saw 22 of those). “Independent distributors” were behind nearly 500 (90 of which I saw). The remaining 1,600-plus titles came out of festivals (where I saw about 50 not included in the other lists)."
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader; 3 Jan 2008)