Breaking Down Walls, Building Bridges: Through Film.
On the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, there is a small piece of the Berlin Wall on a pedestal with an inscription that reads, “This is a remnant of the Berlin Wall, which stood as a barrier against the free exchange of ideas, information, and culture.” It has been almost thirty years since the Berlin Wall and we live in the Information Age, where ideas, information, and culture are zipped around the globe at unprecedented speeds. There are still places, like China or North Korea, where information flow is restricted, but as younger generations push the envelope further and further in the ways in which they share information, such restrictions seem doomed. And yet, we now face a country divided, where each half just doesn’t seem to be getting the message of the other half. There has been a communication breakdown on just about every level within the United States. Lefts and Rights and Media and Politicians all seem to be shouting louder than ever and people seem to be receiving less and less. In short, there are self-built walls within our society that stand as barriers against the free exchange of ideas, information, and culture.
The internet seems to be wringing its hands over the increasing polarization of the U.S., especially since no one can seemingly come up with a solution to this problem. People are simply living in their own realities in which outside facts or opinions are immediately discredited. One side cannot hear the other without immediately writing the other off. There is a gap of understanding of the world between these two sides that seems to be hopelessly and irrevocably large and ever increasing. But as all of this is going on, I can’t help but feel dismayed at the way we have cut ourselves off from other countries. Xenophobic ideas and policies aside (that’s for another article), all of this panic and crisis over our government has caused us to be incredibly self-centered. We speak of other nations only in relation to ourselves, how our government has ruined relations with them or vice versa. In a time that is already markedly narcissistic, panic over internal states of affairs makes this worse.
In life, the more one focuses on oneself, the more one is likely to be unhappy. Focus on the self causes us to linger on flaws, disappointments, failures, nuisances, things we wish we could change. I posit that this is true on a macro level for our nation. The more we focus on our country, the more entrenched we will become in useless debates over how best to fix the crisis of the month. We go through hot topic issues like seasonal fashion collections and no one ever seems to be happy about how things are going. We never, on the other hand, take time to observe other nations, what they’re doing right and ask ourselves how we can integrate what we see, either on a political level or on a cultural level. I would also suggest that this country would see its problems resolve if it was actively engaged in helping other nations that need help, not for our own benefit.
“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build walls.”
King T’Challa delivered us those words only a few months ago and we, as a country should live by them. The walls we have built, the ones that stand as barriers to the free exchange of ideas, information, and culture, are ones that we have built around ourselves. As a citizen of the United States, I more than understand the feeling of powerlessness, the feeling of not being able to make a difference in the state of my country. But, as someone who works with and loves film, I will submit my small idea of we can begin to build bridges and break down our walls. Watch international film. Partake in other cultures. See others’ view of the world.
It has never made much sense to me why the market for international film in the United States is so small. It is true that Hollywood certainly is the center of the world when it comes to filmmaking, but in an age of globalization, film seems to have stayed centered in the U.S.. Foreign films remain a niche, something weird that only white hipsters are into. There is a strange stigma around the genre (and calling such a wide range of films a genre is already reductive) that has always eluded me. How many people know that some of the greatest filmmakers of this century are currently at Cannes Film Festival, screening their new films? Jia Zhangke, the director of “A Touch of Sin”, named the fourth best movie of the century so far by the New York Times, has a new movie and no one knows who he is. Pawel Pawlikowski, director of the 2013 masterpiece “Ida” has a new movie and no one knows it or him. Asghar Farhadi, the best Iranian director and director of “A Separation”, “The Past”, and “The Salesman”, has a new movie, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and no one knows about it. Ryusuki Hamaguchi, Matteo Garrone, and Jean-Luc Godard, all fantastic directors, all have new movies at this festival, not to mention Spike Lee and David Robert Mitchell (It Follows). Why aren’t we paying attention to any of this? Why don’t care about what art is being made by people outside of this country?
If we, as a country, stay focused on ourselves, things will not get better. It takes looking outside of ourselves, observing other cultures, partaking in what is foreign, and coming to a better, fuller understanding of the world around us. Film is a (small) way to do that. Film is a bridge, but we as an audience need to do our part in building it. We are the only things limiting the free flow of culture into our own society and the less we are centered around ourselves, the better of we’ll be. Cinema is one of the most accessible ways of subverting the innate ethnocentrism present in American culture, which is why we should all care about foreign films. We are all one tribe, as T’Challa says, and we need to do better about reflecting that in the ways we live our lives, in our attitudes to other countries, cultures, and works of art.