This is the first part of a two part post musing about national cinemas compared to national game cultures. Today I give you some thoughts on a(n Australian) national cinema, the game part follows tomorrow. I spent a good part of last week reading Tom O'Regan's excellent "Australian National Cinema. O'Regan explains that Australia's national cinema – or any national cinema for that matter – can be evaluated through a limited number of conceptual means. These include a relation with a dominant Hollywood cinema in which the national cinema is situated under the sign of culture and Hollywood under the sign of the profane economy; a division within the national cinema between its mainstream and its peripheral or independent cinemas; and a positive evaluation of Hollywood and its legacy in local markets. This simultaneously values and devalues the local national cinema (O'Regan, 1996: 6).
Like all national cinemas, the Australian cinema contends with Hollywood dominance, it is simultaneously a local and international form, it's a producer of festival cinema, it has a significant relation with the nation and the state, and it is constitutionally fuzzy. National cinemas are simultaneously an aesthetic and production movement, a critical technology, a civic project of state, an industrial strategy and international project formed in response to the dominant international cinemas (ibid.: 100).
When the Australian state decided to revive the Australian movie industry (which in terms of indigenous production had been pretty much dead since the 1920s) its rationale followed a logic of cultural nationalism in the face of the domination of Hollywood product. It wanted an industry that situated Australians in their own history, a vehicle for a common culture and a civic ideology, a set of common understandings and aspirations, sentiments and ideas that bound the population in their homeland (ibid.: 18-19). Film-making here is crafted from a focus on specifically Australian themes and national specifities: producing an international art cinema vehicle that is associated with cultural values – aesthetically in an art or quality cinema and culturally in the sense of the all too mundane national culture and its archive of myths and symbols (ibid.: 100).
Not too long after these support mechanisms became effective one can assess the emerging of another industrial and critical strategy opposed to this logic: It wanted to craft Australian cinema as close as possible to the American, becoming to an extent interchangeable with it producing, or rather trying to produce, dominant international cinema. It stresses what is universal, not Australian singularity (ibid.). (As O'Regan points out under reference to Mad Max director/ producer George Miller these strategies don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive though. It's a long story…)
The official adoption of multiculturalism and the high rate of migration of course complicated the idea of film as a vehicle for common culture. Cultural policy and cultural nationalism could no longer be so easily equated as it shifted from positions concerned with managing the external relations of a sovereign national culture towards facilitating and problematising fractured and divided internal relations – a change that was incorporated into new policy guidelines regarding the "Australianess" of a movie; and a change that could still be connected to the logic of a national project in the sense that it furthers the production of films reflecting Australia's distinctiveness as a constantly emerging culture by foregrounding of cultural diversity.
But then there's the problem that in a globalized audio-visual trade the idea of distinctive Australian content (however defined) becomes discredited as this is a political economy which favors exports; a policy which runs counter to any nation building projects respectively of problematisations of Australia a diverse nation in the sense that this creates a cinema that is not of global market appeal. The idea that a national cinema is irrelevant to contemporary circumstances became especially influential in Australia through its enthusiastic adoption of economic rationalism.
O'Regan explains that what is exciting about Australian film-making since its renaissance is an overall picture marked by this double problematisation –the one which promises a film-making ecology separate from or to the side of the market, and the one which promises the utility of the market itself as the conferrer of value – and how it works in these spaces; something that makes it "fuzzy", or "messy" (ibid.: 143).