What is Third Cinema?

Third Cinema is an aesthetic and political project whose principles have guided filmmakers throughout the regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While its principles were originally defined and used to rally filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s, Third Cinema still influences filmmaking strategies and projects today. Third Cinema continues to evolve as political, social, and cultural climates change throughout the world; the tone of a Third Cinema film can reflect a revolutionary atmosphere and deliver its message with confidence, convey the disillusionment of failed or coopted revolutions, or express frustration with class, racial, or gender oppression continued colonial impulses from First World nations. For this reason, Third Cinema's importance in filmmaking history and its power to deliver social commentary with the aim of inspiring change cannot be understated.

The term “Third Cinema” reflects its origins in the so-called Third World, which generally refers to those nations located in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where historical encounters with colonial and imperial forces have shaped their economic and political power structures. The term also illustrates a response to the dominant cinematic forms of First World nations and commercial national film industries. Where First Cinema conjures images of Hollywood movies, consumption, and bourgeois values, and Second Cinema refers to European art house films demonstrating aesthetic, but not always political, innovation, Third Cinema takes a different approach to filmmaking, by subverting cinematic codes, embracing revolutionary ideals, and combating the passive film-watching experience of commerical cinema.

In its earliest stages, as articulated by the classic manifestoes and theories of the 1960s and 1970s, Third Cinema was a militant practice parallel with revolutionary struggles of this period, produced with the intention of provoking discussion with and amongst its viewers and proposing alternative visions of the past, present, and future. While some of this militancy has faded as revolutionary struggles have changed or failed and new issues have arisen, Third Cinema has evolved to address problems in nation-building projects, to express disillusionment and impotence, to respond to new forms of cultural oppression. In general, Third Cinema's aesthetic innovations involve the mixing of different genres and visual styles to situate both cultural and political critiques, rather than aiming solely for artistic excellence and expression. In this way, the filmmakers of Third Cinema select their visual elements and compositional structures to suit their message, which is why the films of Third Cinema are so diverse in their styles and forms. Though they range from newsreel shorts, to realist epics, to pseudo-documentaries, to avant-gardist pieces, Third Cinema films maintain their connection to the principles of questioning and challenging the structures of power and oppression and educating those who live under and must struggle against its domination.

What are the goals of Third Cinema? What does it address?

While the content and message of Third Cinema films vary depending on the filmmaker, the country of origin, the resources available, and the political and social climate, these films are part of the Third Cinema project because they address certain topics and adhere to particular guiding principles. Third Cinema films generally engage the following issues and address the following questions:

By incorporating cultural and political critiques and challenging viewers with new compositional structures and genre juxtaposition, Third Cinema harnesses the power of film to increase social consciousness about issues of power, nationhood, identity, and oppression around the world. For audiences within these regions, particularly those facing cultural and political subordination, Third Cinema aims to illustrate the historical and social processes that have brought about their oppression and to indicate where transformation is required. For viewers outside these regions, Third Cinema presents the realities of Third World nations as they are, avoiding sensationalism or romanticism, in order to educate the viewing public and to encourage dialogue about alternative visions of the past, present, and future. As Third Cinema principles continue to guide filmmakers from the Third World or Third World diaspora with access to media and film resources in the First World, these messages will hopefully become more prevalent and make social change more possible.

Finally, it is important to note the distinction between Third Cinema and Third World Cinema. As indicated above, Third Cinema is an aesthetic and political project which is guided by certain principles in order to challenge power structures. Third Cinema films are generally produced by filmmakers located within the Third World regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America and intended for audiences in these regions. However, Third Cinema can also include films made by filmmakers located in the so-called First or Second Worlds as long as they adhere to the guiding principles and are made in support of the Third World perspective. (The Battle of Algiers by the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo is a classic example.) This project is sometimes referred to by other names, including Third World Cinema, but Third World Cinema, or world cinema, is a much broader category which generally includes commercial or arthouse films produced in Third World countries as well as films with social and political commentary made before (or after) the advent of the Third Cinema movement. Though some view Third Cinema as a project of a particular revolutionary period which has now ended, its legacy is visible in films being produced today in the Third World as well as by Third World diaspora populations now located within the First World and in organizations using the power of media for social justice. In short, Third Cinema is still alive—and just as powerful.