What is Third Cinema?

Against mainstream representations of marginalised groups, Third Cinema plays a crucial role in mediating the world in a way appropriate to the politics of class experience. The power of Third Cinema comes not just from its politics, content or aesthetic but from the whole of the production process.

Third cinema is, as Mike Wayne (2001: 5) explains, political cinema that has a political orientation in its content, as ‘a body of theory and filmmaking practice committed to social and cultural emancipation.’ It also has a political orientation in its mode of production: ‘It challenges both the way cinema is conventionally made (for example, it has pioneered collective and democratic production methods) and the way it is consumed. It refuses to be mere entertainment, yet banish from your mind a cinema that is worthy but dull or a cinema of simplistic polemics. Third Cinema is passionate, angry, often satirical, always complex.’

It is worth citing Mariano Mestman (2011: 29) at length on his conception of Third Cinema and Militant Cinema:

The notion of ‘Third Cinema’ referred to a cinema of ‘cultural decolonisation’ for the Third World that was defined in opposition to the cinema of Hollywood (First Cinema) and sought to overcome the limitations attributed to the so-called ‘auteur cinema’ (Second Cinema). ‘Militant cinema’, by contrast, was conceived as the most advanced category of Third Cinema and was associated with a type of immediate, direct intervention intended to generate discussion at a political ‘event’, during or after the projection. Thus, the notion of film event, as a tool to convert the spectator (in the traditional cinematic sense) into protagonist of the exhibition and ‘actor’ (militant) in the political process, assumed a fundamental role. The principal hypotheses of ‘militant cinema’ also followed from this notion: on the one hand, the necessary involvement and integration of the cinema group with specific political organisations; on the other, the instrumentalisation of film in the process of liberation.

In this sense, Third Cinema can be explained in terms of its process, practice and product, with attention to resistance to appropriation. As O’Neill puts it in relation to her working class film-making, it can only be adequate ‘when the working class produce critical work rooted in working class experience’ (O’Neill, 2018: 136-40). Outsiders cannot do that.

Sambiki Saru documentary practice developed in partnerships with one of the pre-eminent Third Cinema documentarians, Michael Chanan, with whom we made Secret City (UK, 2011) and Money Puzzles (UK, 2016). In each instance we had each been embedded in the issues we were filming. Between those films we made The Fourth Estate (UK, 2015) – the first fully Sambiki Saru production – with Liz Mizon, again being embedded in the subject.

The most recent film is the prison documentary, Injustice. You can read about how Third Cinema principles were employed to make the prison documentary, Injustice here.