Political Cinema


By: Shelby Halliman

This semester I have been taking a course all about film festivals. It is a really interesting class that allows you to venture into a more in-depth look at different film festivals around the world. One of the topics that we have discussed is how various political regimes have influenced cinema and how this particular regimes have shaped film festivals as we know them today.

Still from the Sundance premiere film, Mudbound.

Sundance has already kicked off and has constantly been talked about for its rapidly increasing progressive atmosphere. Many films have been inspired by events or subjects of great controversy and have sparked discussion on whether political cinema should be the “right” focus in a film festival. Being one of the most well-established film festivals in North America, other countries have also partaken in this discussion. Robert Redford, critically acclaimed actor and founder of the Sundance festival, defended the artistry aspect of the film festival saying:

“We try to stay away from politics, per se. We stay focused on what are the stories being told by artists.”

I do not know how I feel about the phrase “political cinema” being tossed around as something derogatory. First and foremost, this is a very broad phrase due to the fact that there are a range of films based on different political regimes as well as films that provide social commentary for such regimes in order to bring about awareness, influence others to be a part of a specific cause, or allow a space for critical thinking. Film festivals are able to provide a creative a lot for many different types of people and provide people the opportunity to appreciate said creativity while discussing critical matters of the film. As time progresses, so do film festivals. Instead of perpetuating stereotypes or condemning the topic at hand, films should be celebrated instead of chastised for wanting to showcasing their insight on different subjects that some people might be too afraid to even talk about. Film festivals are a celebration. It is a time where people can come together from all over the world and offer their own ideas and possibly connect with other people who seek the same opportunities.

Still from the Sundance premiere film, Last Man in Aleppo.

Recently, the New York Times posted an article titled, “No Escaping Politics at the Progressive Sundance Film Festival”. This article provides their insight on a few of the films showcased at this year’s Sundance film festival. Read more about it here:


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2 Responses to Political Cinema

  1. Interesting you bring this up. I was just at Sundance this past week and can speak a bit to your point. Based on the line-up from this year and some of my conversations with the Sundance Institute employees, this was a fairly political year. With the election and various social issues in the news this past year, Sundance saw a high volume of political/environmental submissions. Though they claim their line-up is more a reflection of the common themes in the submission pool, I do think they tend to frame each festival with a certain ideology attached.

    That said, I saw a fair number of environmentally/politically based films. While they were highly relevant and moving, I have to say I was relieved when I saw “Brigsby Bear,” a comedy co-written by Kyle Mooney (which he starred in). Watching this made me realize that film for entertainment is somewhat disappearing. This disappoints me. I think we have become so obsessed with politics and social issues that we have let it permeate some things in life which, though they do have a place for such discussions, were not originally intended to be. It will be interesting to track the line-ups of future festivals after some of the political unrest begins to subside. Check out my review of Plastic China — I found that one to be particularly moving.

  2. marymdalton says:

    Of course….I think all film is political…either because of what is included or what is left out…

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