4.1 Global Media: Transnational and Accented Cinemas
In 2012, I received the Michael Smith Foreign Studies Supplement Award, which allowed me to spend a semester (Fall 2012) under the host supervision of Professor Hamid Naficy, the theoretical father of diasporic, exilic, and accented cinemas, at the Department of Radio/Television/Film and Screen Cultures at Northwestern University. In this context, Professor Naficy welcomed me to audit his graduate seminar “Global Media: Transnational and Accented Cinemas." In our course, we began by discussing Naficy’s definition of accented films as interstitial sites of expression that merge cinematic practice with social and political commonalities shared amongst exile and diaspora communities. In An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (2000), he suggests to “identify and develop the most appropriate theory to account for the complexities, regularities, and inconsistencies of the films made in exile and diaspora, as well as for the impact that the liminal and interstitial location of the filmmakers has on their work” (20). With this goal in mind, our class considered that those who practice accented cinema are usually minor ethnicities and postcolonial communities who live and work outside their home country in exile or as immigrants. Many filmmakers who are forced to leave their home countries do become independent. They become multifunctional by raising their own funds and by writing/directing their films, which allows them to become the author of their work. In class, we considered similarities among the films of various exilic and diasporic filmmakers under the banner of Naficy’s term “Accented Cinema,” which refers to the diaspora’s specific styles as their accents. Stylistic elements such as split identities, nostalgia for home, non-linear and multilingual narrative are the accents of this type of cinema. We also reflected on the importance of film festivals for these types of films, which do not normally get commercial distributions in cinemas. In fact, we learned that the modes of production, distribution, and consumption are additional factors that define accented cinema.
Auditing Professor Naficy’s course allowed me to participate in the intense study and discussion of more than forty articles and fifteen films relevant to diasporic and accented cinema. The course helped me extensively to develop my thinking on ideas of migration, diaspora, and exile and how they influence and accentuate the style, identity, and consciousness of filmmakers in diaspora and exile. The articles and films were written and made by scholars and filmmakers who were from communities that have lived in between two cultures and homes and as a result, have experienced the displacement, alienation, and unsettlement of being in exile or diaspora. Some of the scholars whose works we considered include Bill Nichols, Edward Said, Hamid Naficy, John Durham Peters, and Laura U. Marks. We also looked at filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan, Ghasem Ebrahimian, Emir Kusturica, Fernando Solanas, Chantal Akerman, Mira Nair, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Jonas Mekas.
One section of the course involved Laura U. Marks’ writings on intercultural and experimental films. Marks’ work explores the phenomenological aspects of being cut between two cultures and homes. In her book The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (2000), Marks characterizes intercultural films as possessing “experimental styles that attempt to represent the experience of living between two or more cultural regimes of knowledge, or living as a minority in the still majority, white, Euro-American West” (1). She is particularly interested in the embodied response of the viewer, that is to say, how viewers experience the audiovisual aspects of film through non-audiovisual sensory experiences (1). In our course, we discussed, through Marks, how intercultural artists phenomenologically “interrogate the historical archive” and tackle issues of identity-as-process (4). Following Marks, we distinguished intercultural filmmakers from the majority of exile and diaspora filmmakers in that many intercultural filmmakers live in the country where they were born (6). While intercultural and experimental films are, we found, driven mainly by memory, nostalgia, and longing for home, hybridity is also an important structural feature.
A major emphasis of this course was how hybridity can be understood as a powerful means to contribute to acts of cultural relocation; it combines elements of the familiar and the unfamiliar, creating a combination of cultures wherein new means of representation emerge. The hybrid has the potential to transcend the limits of two or several cultures through the negotiation and mediation of similarity and difference. We noted how this, in turn, encourages the exchange of features and ideas between cultures that constructs new meaning and experimental styles for video. The intercultural hybrid cinema mixes media (e.g., documentary, fiction, and personal genres) in order to pursue archeological projects that dig up traces of memory and experience forgotten by the dominant culture (7). As a class, we proposed a working definition of the term intercultural, which we found implies a “dynamic relationship between a dominant ‘host’ culture and a minority culture” (7) as well exchanges between non-dominant cultures.
This course was valuable for me as an experimental filmmaker and a member of the Iranian diaspora in Canada, since my work explores how Iranian diasporic subjectivity and liminal identity (an identity that is cut between two homes and cultures) can create possibilities for experimentation in accented and intercultural film and video. Our course’s focus on Naficy’s scholarship about accented, diasporic, and exilic cinema as well as Marks’ scholarship about intercultural experimental films have helped me to conceptualize the stylistic, narrative, thematic, and phenomenological aspects of experimental film and video art. In my practice, I use tenets of Persian/Islamic mysticism (Sufism), such as Sufi’s journey towards the Knowledge of the divine, as elements of Persian culture. One of my goals, which has emerged from my learning in this course, is to investigate this mystical concept under the light of Naficy’s notion of journeying in accented cinema. I consider this two-pronged journeying as a diasporic experience, as a narrative device, and also as a main motif in Sufis’ practice and in my film—conveying a journey that Sufis undertake in order to achieve proximity with the infinite divine. This consonance across Sufism and film helps me to explore how the filmmakers’ personal home-seeking journeys, at both geographical and psychological levels, can contribute to the construction and the development of artists’ diasporic (cultural) identity and consciousness.
This course contributed to my theoretical practice as well as the creative dimension of my doctoral project, the latter consisting of a series of five experimental videos:
· Reality Report (2013)
· Lullaby for a Crying Elephant (2013)
- A Film That Was Its Title (2013)
- This Is Not That (2013)
· Organon (2012)
Finally, the overall milieu at Northwestern, both inside and outside of class, was receptive to my interdisciplinary work. Indeed, I screened one of my earlier short films, When You Are Blind (2001) and presented a part of my project “Diasporic Subjectivity as a Third Space for Experimentation in Intercultural Film and Video” at the monthly colloquium at the Department of Film, Radio, and TV at Northwestern University (2012). The questions/answers and feedback from other graduate students and faculty, some of whom were in the course, helped me figure out the missing parts in my research. Overall, this course has helped me to produce a key component of my dissertation’s theoretical framework while serving as a springboard for presenting and reviewing my ongoing art production and research.
Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham: Duke UP, 2000. Print.
Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton:Princeton UP, 2001. Print.
Mansoor Behnam is an experimental filmmaker, writer/poet, and researcher in the fields of comparative literature, film and cultural studies. He is currently in the last year of his PhD studies, working on an art/research project in the Cultural Studies program at Queen’s University. As the creative component of his project, Behnam has used tenets of Persian medieval mysticism (Sufism) to conceptualize a practice-based theory of “Mystical Experimental Cinema.” His research is also informed by his experience of immigration to Canada. Behnam’s work has been screened and discussed in film festivals, artist-run centers, and universities. His collection of poetry titled Opposite Dreams (2014) is currently in the works.