The notion of Third Cinema first arose in the charged political climate of the 1960s. The original ideas of Third Cinema, as with all such political and aesthetic movements, were a product of both the social and historical conditions of the time, particularly those prevailing in the “Third World.” Poverty, government corruption, fraud “democracies,” economic and cultural neo-imperialisms, and brutal oppression affected many Third World countries. These conditions required an appropriate response, and radical revolutionary movements rapidly sprang up to contest reactionary politics and to champion those whom Franz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Third Cinema was in many ways an effort to extend the radical politics of the time into the realm of artistic and cultural production.
From its origin Third Cinema therefore was linked to revolutionary political struggle and particularly to political struggles in the Third World. For example, the Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, authors of Towards a Third Cinema, used the term to describe films, like their own Hour of the Furnaces, that sought to break both from the traditions of Hollywood on the one hand and European art films on the other. These films were often revolutionary not only in the political statements that they advanced, their “content,” but also in their formal construction. They exposed the arbitrary rules underlying traditional filmmaking styles in much the same way that they worked to bring repressive social and political structures to the consciousness of their audiences.
This early, revolutionary period of Third Cinema deserves to be remembered and eulogized. Its spontaneity, groundbreaking formal innovations, political commitment, and the visceral impact of these films serve as an archival memory that filmmakers of today continue to draw upon. Yet, while these roots remain important, Third Cinema can no longer be defined solely in terms of its radical beginnings, its ancestry. While we should honor and draw strength from these cinematic inheritance as we do our own flesh-and-blood ancestors, we cannot live in the past. Third Cinema was always a cinema of change; to define it simply in terms of its original ideas is to reduce it to the status of a static historical phenomenon: something past or dead. Third Cinema, however, continues to live on, and like all living things, it cannot stay the same.
In considering the ways in which Third Cinema has changed, we should first of all acknowledge that the world has itself changed a great deal since the early days in which Third Cinema was born. Like the idea of the Third World, the very concept of Third Cinema was formed as an alternative to the great political oppositions of its time: First World capitalism and the Second World of the Soviet bloc. With, however, the collapse and implosion of the Soviet empire, we have been left with an idea of the “Third World” that no longer stands in contrast with a First and Second Worlds. Similarly, at a cinematic and cultural level, the rise of globalization has effaced many of the traditional distinctions between entertainment and art that Third Cinema sought to bring into question. The opposition between First and Second Worlds has given way to a universe in which the forms of capitalist globalization seem to hold sway everywhere. This global universe presents itself as an all-inclusive world, able to encompass all manner of cultural and political diversity. Yet, in this global world, new enemies have to be found, or invented. This need for a new oppositional structure has been met by the figure of terrorists and other “evildoers” who might threaten the security of the New World Order. Of course, these dangerous "others” are almost invariably linked to the Third World. Thus, the binary opposition of “us” and “them” has increasingly been cast in terms of the...