The Cinema of Globalization: A Guide to Films About the New Economic Order

By Catherine Lupton

Following on from Working Stiffs, Tom Zaniello’s earlier reference guide to films about labour, this new volume offers a clear and easy-to-navigate survey of films dealing with different aspects of globalization. The introduction helpfully untangles this most hydra-headed of phenomena, by defining globalization in terms of a set of indicators – global labour, digitalisation, outsourcing, deregulation and so forth – which are briefly explained and linked to suggested further reading, before setting out the rationale for the selection of films included.

Zaniello operates with an appropriately flexible definition of what counts as a film nowadays, incorporating many TV broadcasts and Web-based productions alongside traditional celluloid, and drawing in documentaries, fiction feature films and experimental works from around the world, though with a strong and perhaps inevitable weighting towards English-language and especially North American productions. The reference section covers the films in alphabetical order, each with more follow-up reading suggested; then a subject-based index allows the reader to cross-reference films on a particular topic, say Enron, migrant labour or deregulation and privatisation.

Strongly geared to educators, programmers and other concerned citizens, the main value of The Cinema of Globalization is simply in alerting the reader to the wealth of material that is out there awaiting discovery. The individual entries are generally informative on the content of films and the key issues covered, although the length and depth of coverage varies, and with the fiction films there was a tendency to lapse into recounting the plot. As the work of a labour historian who has turned his knowledge and expertise towards the field of cinema (not the other way around), the descriptions do occasionally fall short on sensitivity to the finer points and implications of film aesthetics.

Inevitably, a guide of this nature will raise quibbles about inclusions and exclusions, precisely because Zaniello has cast his net so admirably wide. I remain puzzled that there is no mention of Godfrey Reggio’s influential Qatsi trilogy, especially Powaqqaatsi, with its groundbreaking meditative vision of life and labour in the global South; and also felt the absence of an intriguing and growing cluster of primarily European movies, such as Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources and Time Out, and Christian Petzold’s forthcoming Yella, that deal directly with the glacial environments and frigid ahuman psychology of the global corporate world.

However, perhaps the essential point to make here is that, with globalization still an urgent and evolving subject-matter for filmmakers across all media platforms, and with waves of important new releases (like Bamako, Ghosts and Black Gold) continuing to reach screens of all sizes, a book like this does run the risk of becoming obsolete as soon as it leaves the printers. The Cinema of Globalization remains a wonderful resource for dipping into and finding what you didn’t know you were looking for, but given Zaniello’s alertness to the flexibility and rapid evolution of media platforms for films about globalization, it’s a project that forcefully cries out for an on-line complement, to keep us up-to-date and interactively engaged with this vital and expanding body of work.

The Cinema of Globalization: a Guide to Films About the New Economic Order (2007) by Tom Zaniello is available from Cornell University Press)

Catherine Lupton teaches Film Studies at Roehampton University and is currently researching representations of the world in photography and film. She authored Chris Marker (Reaktion Books).