Monday, October 17, 2011

Film--Always a Happy Ending?

“When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape”
A talk by K. Harihara, Oct. 12

This week I watched a lot of films, and talked a lot about films.  I've been thinking about the art of film and why it's one of our societies most favorite mediums.   

  On Wednesday, K. Harhiaran from Chennai, India came to the NAU campus and discussed Indian film and the cowboy archetype in his presentation, "When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape".  After hearing about the melodramatic aspects of Indian film, I spent many hours at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, Wednesday - Sunday,  watching documentaries on environmentalism, extreme sports, local issues, indigenous voices, and women's issues.  So I got to delve into two very different film genres--melodrama and nonfiction.  But really, are they all so different?

  There is an interesting distinction between melodramas, dramas, and documentaries.  Harhiarian, or "Hari" pointed out that most Indian films are very clearly melodramas based on the Hollywood golden age.  Melodramas exaggerate plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions.  In the New York Times this week, Nicolas Rapold defines the formula of melodramas of Hollywood’s Golden Age as containing:
  Like the Hollywood Golden Age love stories, Indian films are packed with archetypes and character types, as well as exaggerated plots, following the formula for melodrama perfectly.  The film industry in India created 1100 films in 2010 alone; almost all of these contribute to a "creation of cinema mythology" that consists of heroes, heroines, and happy endings.  Indian films are expected to follow a plot formula.  There is no room for personalized stamps by the directors--there is no individualism, said Hari. 
  When I  was watching the documentary films at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival this weekend, I wondered which was more dramatic--melodramas or real life.  For instance, I watched the local film "Greening the Revolution," about international food injustice, made by Katie Curran (who is also a College of Arts and Letters alumna, by the way.)  "Greening the Revolution talked about how globalization has created one economy for the entire world.  The United States is able to undercut local farmers in other countries, creating a dependence on imported food and destroying local farm economies.

  While the film was nonfiction and factual, it was incredibly similar to melodrama.  Like melodramas, the documentary had
  • A THWARTED LOVER  (Kenya, India, Zambia, Brazil and various farmers throughout the United States)
  • AN AFFLICTION  (local farmers are unable to compete with a global agriculture economy)
  • THE HORRIBLE AWKWARD SECRET  (companies like Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are making record profits by getting small farmers hooked on fertilizers and genetically modified seeds and making prices increasingly unaffordable) 
  The only thing missing was the IMPLAUSIBLE REUNION.  Documentaries aren't as popular because they don't have the magic bullet ending.  This is real life, folks, and the dramas of real life aren't so easily resolvable into a neat and clean package.

  A lot of these documentaries are telling important stories.  They don't have an implausible solution at the end, because solutions take time and effort, and are usually logical progressions.  Yes, this film was hard for me to watch.  Part of it was that the situation sucks.  Part of it was that the point was hammered in until my heart got sore.  But another part is that I'm conditioned to expect a happy ending at the conclusion of every film.  I will try to overcome my Hollywood training to expect the happy ending--just because it's a film-- and watch these documentaries that make me mad, make me cry, and make me think.

  But it's a hard process.

"Greening the Revolution" a film by College of Arts and Letters alumna, Katie Curran.

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