Using cinemas and television for a better Guyana
By Terence Roberts
Guyana Chronicle
May 4, 2003

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OWNING and managing cinemas, TV stations, and video stores are not only business opportunities for profit, but strong media-systems for the shaping of a better Guyana. There is no point in running such media businesses if one is not interested in shaping a better country where one lived.

Films and television influence human minds and lives. This is a fact. Therefore, if we use them correctly, we can better our society. In Guyana, there seems to exist the idea that only religious programmes and sermons can convey moral and social guidance, often in a needed frank and unconventional manner that does not offer didactic answers which prove little and bore the young,

Audiences do not decide what they see in the cinema and TV mediums; business owners and managers decide that. It is they who must make the proper choice of what to offer the general public. Such proper choices may very well lead to a better, safer society in which their businesses can flourish.

Why do we need proper choices of films and TV programmes for the general local public? Because most films and foreign TV programmes aired in Guyana are not made for us; their makers were not thinking of our society and its need for cohesive social values, they are not thinking of our tropical habits, or our everyday lifestyle which should be realistically adjusted to where we live, inspiring us towards fulfilling our ambitions through self-reliant creativity.

We are therefore often consumers of influential mental products which ignore us, yet ask for our attention and money. In fact, I had read an article some time ago which mentioned that increasingly there are American made and other cheap foreign films sold abroad as disguised propaganda, which can destabilise simple lifestyles and encourage a violently competitive social atmosphere, which is indeed similar to the content of many Hollywood and imitation Hollywood films, devoid of intellectual, artistic or socially positive values.

I am not suggesting here any strict new local censorship of films. As mentioned earlier, proper selection should start with owner and managing staff of cinemas and TV stations and video stores. Obviously caution is necessary in state censorship, which is a process that can be used for reasons other than public betterment.

Guyana today embraces true democratic ideals and few people here would want the weeding out of films from public eyes because they criticise corruption, or express social values of a generous nature. In prior articles, I have suggested American and European films with local relevance, thousands of which exist, yet are rarely seen today in Guyana, and would probably surprise a new generation for several reasons. I will name and discuss such films briefly in future articles. I maintain that many Hollywood films from the 1960’s back to the late 1930’s are better and more relevant to Guyanese as a whole than mot Hollywood films from the 1970’s onward.

European films, especially French and Italian films sub-titled in English, from the 1960’s to the present, would be of definite benefit and betterment for Guyanese society. A limited number of British, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Polish films sub-titled in English, as well as African and earlier Indian films, share this local benefit as well.

Lest this seems like too drastic a judgement of recent films, American or otherwise, let me mention just a few made since the 1980’s which are not only masterpieces, but of realistic everyday relevance and moral value for Guyanese - `Out of Africa’ with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep; `Eve’s Bayou’ with Samuel Jackson and Lynn Whitfield; `Falling in love’ with Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep; `The thin red line; with Sean Penn and Nick Nolte; `Chocolat’ with Julliette Binoche and Judi Dench; `Erin Brokovich’ with Julia Roberts and Albert Finney; `The Patriot’ with Mel Gibson; `What lies beneath’ with Michelle Pffeifer and Harrison Ford; `Devdas with Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai; `Unfaithful’ with Richard Gere and Diane Lane; and even a big city musical like the recent `Chicago’ with Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah.

Films like these should not be shown once or twice in cinemas, then forgotten; they should receive repeat public exposure and spread their special virtues.

The social value of cinemas merits their necessity. Cinemas function best in downtown commercial districts, residential neighbourhoods and villages. They keep vital communities alive and in touch with their members; they also create crowds which make use of nearby restaurants, cafes and other businesses, encouraging commercial urban development. The present dismal social state of many areas of Georgetown and villages are helped by the closing and demolition of socially valuable cinemas.

In small cities like Georgetown, the end of cinemas would mean less opportunities for the vital teaching and practice of social manners and responsibility. But we do not attend cinemas to have cigarette smoke blown in our face, incessant disturbances, bugs biting our flesh, or washrooms clogged with filth. Most of all we attend cinemas for films that cover diverse human topics, and not only tragic violence, and all the numerous ways of crime and evil shown week after week, or only films recently made and shown as a mere choiceless routine.

Seeing a film among dozens or hundreds of unknown, or only vaguely known individuals, affects us more than seeing a film alone or with friends on TV at home. This subtle mental change occurs because the moral of good films with good stories (for example, Devdas) makes us self-conscious in crowds where we know many faults of the characters acting on screen, are among us as well. This feeling of guilt, of shared knowledge, keep cinemas alive, renovated and built around the world. TV and home videos lessen the moral effect of films - the film is no longer something social, but something owned in secret, its effect becomes almost trivial and its moral importance declines.

The invention of TV, in fact, caused the decline of high standards in new films. TV drew away cinema audiences to TV programmes not as well made or deep as films. In order to compete with TV, new films began to imitate shallow commercial TV programmes. This is why films made before the saturation of TV remain the great classics, many of which were made in vivid black and white and colour not seen today, and also in Cinemascope and Vista-Vision, which no TV screen can offer, only the cinema screen. TV was intended for mostly real social topics, news coverage, documentaries, etc.; though not for private death and birthday messages. Cinemas revitalise our common bonds as humans, for the benefit of our social wellbeing.

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