Community Media as ‘Third Cinema’

I haven’t written here much lately as I had to put all my writing energy into finishing writing my PhD, which is now done, (the viva in May, wish me luck!!!).  There are a few places I want to take my research further in the future, one of which is to develop the discourse of positioning the films made in community media educational projects as a form of ‘Third Cinema’, the independent political film tradition  1

Mike Wayne describes Third Cinema as “a body of theory and filmmaking practice committed to social and cultural emancipation.  This body of filmmaking is small, indeed tiny in terms of world cinema output.  Yet Third Cinema films are amongst the most exciting and challenging films ever made….It challenges both the way cinema is conventionally made (for example, it has pioneered collective and democratic production methods) and the way it is consumed.” (Wayne, 2001)

I’m sure this description will resonate with those of you who facilitate the making of films with young people and adults in participatory contexts.

I’m interested in how community media is active in the sense that, rather than only documenting and reflecting on a social situation or problem, it also seeks solutions.  Solutions are often sought through either;

1) the promotion of debate when the work is screened (in schools, community centres, on community radio, etc);

2) through the use of allegory in the actual narrative;  

3) by using the work in training situations for community workers, counsellors, teachers, police, etc, to affect change in decision makers’ attitudes towards a situation.  Community media work is often used in mediation sessions with disputing members of a community as a tool for conflict resolution.

A ‘debate active’ community media ties in with my realisation that community media educational activities are primarily a form of action research (though often without the actual research!) rather than ethnographic in intention.  At the start of my PhD I was thinking that community media is very ethnographic as the films and radio programmes shine a light on their communities, engaging in oral history, unearthing hidden stories, etc, and therefore do anthropology in their own back yards.  I now realise however that these activities are more in the vein of action research, in that they work according to a method to affect change.  They instil a pride in their communities and cultural identities, promoting hidden stories to show the communities have ‘value’, ‘depth’, and a seriousness that can inspire younger generations to take pride in their surroundings, and the people who live there, or to raise awareness and educate about a certain social issue or problem.   

The use of the term ‘action research’ is of course problematic as community media facilitators on the whole do not conduct long term research studies about what they do and the effect it might have.  (That is essentially what my PhD was.)  I guess what I am suggesting by using the term, is that community media education is ‘lived’ action research, rather than academic.  The impacts of how participants have used the projects to progress themselves are evident in life, though often not analysed.  This is where Dr Alexandra Juhasz’s positioning of the term ‘Media Praxis’ becomes useful.  It is ‘Media as Action’, not solely ‘Media as Observation’.  Hence the difference between ‘Research as Action’ (action research), and ‘Research as Observation’ (ethnography).

Thus for participatory producers to consciously make a film, radio programme (etc), knowing they want the work to have an active impact on the audiences regarding their sense of self-worth as a community, and also on the behaviour of audience as individuals, is a politicised act.  This politicised community media practice and community media process sees the work residing in the realm of the larger film tradition of ‘Third Cinema’.  This again demonstrates how community media practice embodies a deep sense of history and theory that is ‘lived’, experienced and worked through, rather than consciously drawn upon and overtly realised.  The realisation of its context in history can only strengthen the work and confidence of community media facilitators.  It has long been realised in academia that community media is politicised and operates as an element of the Habermas’ notion of the Public Sphere, (Howley 2005, and Lewis 2006).  I would now like to take those ideas into the discourse of Third Cinema and methodologies such as ‘lived’ action research.

Soon on this blog I will create some ‘screening rooms’ where community media productions can be discussed in context of ideas such as Third Cinema, the Public Sphere and other notions that I feel are useful to actual community media practice (praxis).  I hope you join me.  Pass the popcorn!



1 – First Cinema are “dominant, mainstream” movies, and Second Cinema are “art[house], authorial” independent films.  (Wayne, 2001, page 2)



Howley, K (2005), Community Media: People, Places and Communication Technologies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pages 19-20

Lewis, P. (2006). Community Media: Giving “a voice to the Voiceless”, in P. Lewis and S. Jones (Eds.) (2006). From the Margins to the Cutting Edge: Community Media and Empowerment. IAMCR, Hampton Press, USA. Pages 32-33

 Wayne, M. (2001) Political Film: The dialectics of Third Cinema, Pluto Press, London, page 5



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