Fred @ School

3 – Different Kinds of Cinema #FilmLiteracy

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7 min. and 1 sec.

We look at how, more often than not, it’s actually very difficult to tell the difference between the genres.

Play Podcast
7 min. and 1 sec.

The term “film genre” is used to help us differentiate different types of films depending on the story that they tell, the place and time in which these stories take place, the way in which the film has been made, etc.  However, more often than not, it’s actually very difficult to tell the difference between the genres.

The first distinction is between short films and feature films. Short films were very popular in the silent era and also nowadays as a platform for first-time filmmakers and for new forms of expression. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a short film is “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits”. Films running for 40 minutes or longer are therefore known as feature films. In terms of genre, another key distinction is that between documentary films and fiction films. Documentaries tend to focus on life and reality as it is, without manipulating it too much. In contrast, fiction films make up an alternative reality, a fictional world. But this fictional world can be created in many ways, and so we have many different genres in fiction. Comedies, for example, try to make us laugh with funny characters and comic situations, dramas deal with realistic characters and emotional themes, action films feature protagonists usually taking risky turns that lead them to fights, escapes and other desperate situations, horror films try to scare or frighten the audience through suspense, violence or shock, science fiction films take us to a different place and time in our universe or in a different one and musicals have characters singing songs that are part of the story.

Depending on who we ask, the list of genres and subgenres may be much longer than that. Some genres are in fact a combination of various genres. A thriller, for example, may include some elements of action films, although its main elements are usually suspense, tension and excitement. A melodrama is similar to a drama, but the characters and the plot are intensified so that we, the viewers, have a more emotional response to the film. And fantasy films are similar to science fiction films, but they often have an element of magic, myth and wonder that science fiction films may not have.

Apart from this distinction between different film genres, some French film experts in the 50s developed the auteur theory. According to them, sometimes films are characterised not so much by their genre but by the vision of the director as a creator of the film. Even though filmmaking is a collaborative process involving many professionals, the auteur theory believes that some directors have a personal style that determines more than anything else what kind of film it is.

So far we’ve talked about the different styles of film we can find depending on the genres and filmmakers, but the style of a film can also be characterised by where it is made. And here one of the main distinctions is between films made in Europe and those made in Hollywood. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally most experts agree that whereas European filmmakers treat film as an art, mainstream Hollywood focuses on it as entertainment. So much so that the same story may be told differently depending on whether it is filmed in Europe or in America. A bomb attack, for example, may be told from the point of view of the bomber running away from the police in Hollywood, whereas the European filmmaker may choose to focus on the victims, their families and the way they live after the attack.

European films normally comment on society and the reality we live in. Those who defend European cinema sometimes say that Hollywood films are too predictable, as shown by the increasing number of remakes and sequels currently shown in the cinema. They say that Hollywood doesn’t produce 400 films a year, but rather 1 film with 400 different titles. The response from those who defend Hollywood films is that movies are, first and foremost, for entertainment, and that if you want to make a commentary or send a message, you can do so by sending an email or writing a book, not by making a film.

We are of course generalising, because there are many exceptions, but very often European films show us what life is like, whereas Hollywood films show us what life could be like.

But of course, there is filmmaking outside Europe and the US, for example African cinema, Asian cinema or Bollywood, the nickname commonly given to the Indian film industry. Bollywood (where the B stands for Bombai, also known as Mumbai) is a massive film industry that produces 800 films a year, twice as many as Hollywood. Cinema was always big in India from the very early silent films, but from the beginning of the 21st century, it has also become very popular in countries such as the UK. Bollywood films tend to stick to familiar stories where boy meets girl, they fall in love and then they fight for family approval. There is often romance, colourful costumes, singing and dancing.

A further distinction that can be made regardless of where the films have been made is that of studio films vs independent films. Studio films often manage to secure financial resources from private investors and film production companies. They involve big production teams and have access to professional staff, remote locations and expensive equipment. In contrast, directors making independent films often have to look for alternative methods to secure funding or even use their own money and sometimes rely on more limited crews and equipment. Also, studio films are often produced by studios that have a distribution company, whereas independent films are normally submitted to film festivals to attract distribution offers.

Film festivals are normally annual events with an organized presentation of films in one or more venues, typically in a single city or region. They could be general or more specific, focusing on particular genres, filmmakers, subject matters, etc. The best known film festivals are held in Venice, Cannes, Berlin and Toronto, but there are around 3,000 film festivals currently active, 70% of them in North America.


Producing partner: University of Roehampton
Voice Talents: Dylan Ayres, Sharon Fryer
Music: Bensound – Brazilsamba (Composed and performed by Bensound

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