Continuing our journey through The Story of Film, we move further abroad as a new wave of filmmakers emerges across the world. With the French New wave in full flower and major new filmmakers from Italy and Sweden, cinema was in an exciting period of growth, with new directors emerging from countries whose voices had yet to be heard from.
The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 had begun a political “thaw” in Communist bloc countries, which in turn began a blossoming of film culture within them. In Poland, the emergence of the Polish Film School, influenced by the Italian neo-realist film movement, would produce several influential directors including Andrzej Wajda, whose work focused on the social and political evolution of Poland and her people. Wajda’s War Trilogy of films (Pokolenie, Kanal, Ashes & Diamonds) focused on the Polish experience during World War 2 and its aftermath, with characters struggling to survive and resist their country’s occupiers.
From the same milieu came director Roman Polanski, who had worked as an actor in two of Wadja’s films. Polanski’s first feature, Knife In the Water, was an international success about the psychological games played between a married couple and a young hitchhiker. Polanski would quickly leave Poland, choosing to work in Great Britain and America, where he would direct the critically acclaimed films Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown.
While Communist controls had relaxed elsewhere, the film industry in the Soviet Union was still rigidly controlled. Nevertheless, Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky, would manage to make himself known to the world, despite continuous conflicts with State censorship. Tarkovsky’s debut film, Andrei Rubelev, considered one of the greatest films ever made, was suppressed by Soviet censors, remaining unreleased there for years. Though later films like Solaris and Stalker would have less trouble, Tarkovsky would eventually leave the USSR for Italy, where he would direct the films Nostalghia and The Sacrifice.
Originally forbidden to make films by colonialist oppressors, authentic African cinema would find its voice during this time. Regarded as the “father of African film”, Senegalese author Ousmane Sembene embraced filmmaking as a way of reaching a broader African audience. His film La Noire De (Black Girl), about a young Senegalese girl working as a maid for a French couple, grappled with the issues of colonialism and racism, becoming the first African film to win international attention.
Finally, the “new wave” which had brought such change to world cinema, began to impact cinema in Britain and the US. A wave of “kitchen sink” films, dramas focusing on working class disillusionment, moved from British theater to cinemas in films like Look Back In Anger, This Sporting Life and Kes. In the US, director John Cassavetes was laying the foundation for “independent cinema” with films like Shadows, Faces, and Minnie & Moskowitz. But it was the success of another independent film, Easy Rider, that would shake Hollywood to its core and usher in a new age of American cinema.