This issue of Serai, “Beyond the Pale” (Vol.31, Issue 3), is one that resonates with me deeply. Hence, I am very happy and honoured to write this editorial. The issue looks to the many changes in cinema across both production and distribution and from big studio films to independents. It also has a special focus on work by and about artists from minority or marginalized communities.
Almost everyone can remember the first film they ever viewed or a film that had a huge impact on their life. My personal journey with cinema began with watching Hindi or regional films on a huge football field in a small town in India. Most of these films were from Bombay (now Mumbai) and were ‘popular mainstream’ films. It was not until I was exposed to documentaries and foreign language cinema in my teens that I began to recognize the power of this form and other national cinemas as well. It was directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Anand Patwardhan and Suhasini Mulay, and stars like Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri, who first ended up leaving a mark on my psyche and made me want to study and work in the cinematic field.
During my formative years in India, I rarely watched foreign films in regular theatres. Instead I watched them at special screenings at Alliance Française or the Max Mueller Bhavan/German Centre during my visits to New Delhi. These were almost always in French, German or English. It was later, while studying at Concordia University in Montréal, that I developed a better appreciation of this art form and studied the work of Kurosawa, Pasolini, De Sica, Bergman, Kiarostami, Makmalbaf and others. I became familiar with genres, styles, and auteurs. I came to appreciate the technical genius of filmmakers who were able to create remarkable pieces with the lowest of budgets bringing human conditions and human-interest stories on screen. But I was also aware of the lack of Indigenous and women directors in this cluster of films being taught, the only exception being Alanis Obomsawin.
Despite all the developments of arts in this part of the world, we must be aware that there has been a serious gap of knowledge when it comes to Indigenous issues and stories in Canada. Foreign films are not screened or distributed as they could be. Our theatres in this city continue to screen a majority of Hollywood films. We rarely hear from Indigenous communities or watch global cinema. Here in Montréal, Cinema du Parc, Cinema Politica and other alternative spaces for screenings continue to struggle.
Just in the last decade, there have been many shifts and developments in the form and spectatorship of cinema. People are watching films, television shows, YouTube videos and other media on small handheld devices. They can use the same devices for shooting their own films. Despite these changes, there are very few studies on what most people are watching or enjoying. Although our engagement and approach to this medium has changed remarkably, challenges in funding, production and distribution continue to affect many in this field. This is particularly true for those from minority or marginalized groups. More recently, the scandals around Weinstein, Ghomeshi, Spacey and others have brought prominence to the inherent institutional misogyny and gender biases within the media industry. Concurrent reckonings with both gender and racial disparities are just the beginning of a long path that we all will be traveling on in the next few years.
Having taught for over seventeen years at both Dawson College and Concordia University, I realize how fortunate I am to not only be exposed to this world but also to work in it. I do, however, recognize that the number of students who come to the discipline of cinema from diverse ethnic or diaspora communities is still very low. In all these years, I have had exactly five students from South Asian backgrounds in our production classes at Dawson, and only one whose parents were extremely supportive of their choice. This leads me to understand a larger overarching issue of how arts are perceived by many. Particularly in the case of parents who migrate to Canada for better lives, aspirations for children are almost always for professions that can provide stable livelihoods. The arts continue to be associated with struggle and have an aura of instability associated with them. Most people appreciate the arts; in fact, it is often art that sustains the soul. However, the majority of institutions devote far more funding to courses in technical and scientific fields. This leads to a struggle for artists to be supported, whether by family or academic institutions. Only a small group of artists end up managing to achieve real visibility or success.
This issue of Serai weaves together a variety of pieces that address just these questions, and push us to look at several important issues and journeys that take us “Beyond the Pale.” It continues in Serai’s tradition of choosing themes that pose challenging and provocative questions to fill in gaps and redress exclusions, exposing a number of practices and attitudes that continue to be deplorable and unacceptable in our society, through the lens of cinema.
Diana Goldberg’s feature essay on three Mexican films (La Negrada, Sueño en otro idioma and El Violin), describes forms of exclusion among marginalized Indigenous populations and Mexicans of African descent. She raises questions about loyalty to a community vs. loyalty to a nation state, and asks: Who has the right to narrate local history? What is meant by historical identity? How does a community deal with the loss of a language, the denial of racism?
Sharon Bourke reflects on Julie Dash’s groundbreaking 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, which explores the memories of cultural practices and traditions kept alive by Gullah women who are members of the Peazant family living on an isolated sea island with little or no contact with others. “In making her film, Julie Dash has acted as one of the griots, traditional storytellers of her culture, narrating through cinematic poetry as a way to preserve history in the face of change.” Julie Dash also wrote a book about the experience of making her film in the face of daunting obstacles. “I always knew I wanted to make a film about African American women. To tell stories that had not been told. To show images of our lives that had not been seen…”
Jody Freeman’s interview with Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb (Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World) is teeming with reflections on respectful collaboration, and looks at their work dating back more than twenty-five years in bringing Indigenous perspectives to the fore.
Kerry McElroy’s piece situates the #metoo movement historically and in various parts of the world by reflecting on the experiences of women performance artists of all kinds, including courtesans. She makes an impassioned appeal to record the memories of surviving elders as a way of preserving women’s stories and history.
In an insightful critique of Spike Lee’s recent film BlacKkKlansman (the story of an African American policeman infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s), Rana Bose challenges any caricaturing of the civil rights movement and highlights its dignity and organizational strengths.
Karan Singh’s article exposes the slow yet continual homogenization of cultural representation in South Asian cinema, spearheaded by Bollywood. The essay contextualizes how the current political climate in India, led by the Hindu right, has created a framework that continues to support and benefit from a doctored image of India’s cultural and national identity.
Writer and filmmaker Jesse Noah Klein, and writer and editor Durga Chew-Bose reflect on John Cassavetes’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz, which brought them together many years ago and which they’ve since returned to. Their reflections take us on a journey with them on love—first love—relationships, and romantic comedies. It is a poignant piece about hope and letting people in.
In a series of photographs, Anne Bruneau depicts her urban environment and reflects on the symbolic significance of the colours red, blue and white in Montréal.
My own contribution to this issue is a short review of Pallavi Somusetty’s film Escaping Agra, which was shown as part of the diaspora panel for the 2017 edition of the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal. The film will soon be circulated in schools and colleges in North America. I hope that many will view it and gain an understanding of how gender and sexuality issues manifest for youth from families who do not accept them.
Also, as this issue was taking shape, Cinema Politica celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in Montréal. Raphael Cohen and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct a short interview with Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, co-founders of the organization, who have been so instrumental in screening truth to power over two decades. A video of our interview is included in this issue.
Finally, look out for Mirella Bontempo’s in-depth analysis of films shown at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Her piece will be added to the issue in the next few weeks.
The South Asian Film Festival will be opening in Montréal October 26-28 and November 2-4, 2018. As the current director of the festival, I, along with a wonderful team, have attempted to bring forward a strong selection of films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This is the festival’s eighth year in this city. In addition to film screenings, we offer panel discussions with invited experts. The festival affords film enthusiasts the opportunity to have an engaged discussion after each screening with the filmmaker, film experts and the audience. We are also going to present a diaspora panel slated for November 3, in which filmmakers will be present to share their work with the audience. The festival is our attempt to expose a variety of issues and films from South Asia. It seeks to encourage younger participants to consider entering into cinematic fields – imagining and creating films that tell their stories and speak to their issues. I sincerely hope that many who are reading this issue will attend the festival and help us spread the word around the community at large. For more information, please visit the website: https://www.saffm.centrekabir.com/en/
I thank all the writers who have contributed to this issue and the editorial team – Rana Bose, Lisa Foster, Jody Freeman, Nilambri Ghai and Maya Khankhoje – for guiding me through this issue. Thank you for all your support.
Enjoy the issue!
 Jian Ghomeshi was a CBC radio host from 2007 to 2014. In 2014-2015, Ghomeshi was the subject of allegations of sexual harassment or assault and was later arrested. In 2016, he was acquitted of all charges.