Let’s set aside the activity of amassing new objects, the rush to unearth hitherto unknown cinematic texts. This gesture creates a closed relationship with the reader of film scholarship: the object is displayed for consumption, with nothing asked in return. There is a reasonable and inevitable excitement in the sense of discovery offered by new-to-us objects, but that excitement has an energy that eats away at the beating pulse of film theory. To maintain and strengthen that pulse, our project is to think, to pose new questions, and most of all to take risks. One entry point into this project is an object that is widely known, and for many, even canonical, despite the fact that it remains puzzlingly under-examined. That object is the film theory and practice of Third Cinema.

Third Cinema, from its corpus of writings to its vast filmography, is a profoundly expandable object of study. As Mike Wayne reminds us, it was Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s contention that Third Cinema can and should emerge from anywhere.[1] Despite Solanas and Getino’s vision of expansiveness, Film Studies has relegated Third Cinema to a mere example (of counter-cinema or political cinema). The very openness of the theory of Third Cinema—exemplified by the uncapitalized third cinema—is precisely what has been left in the historical dust. In the current mode of Film Studies, third cinema is an “old” thing that can barely keep up with the thirst for the new. Perhaps most tellingly, the contributions of third cinema as a theoretical inquiry into the subject of Film Studies do not figure in major histories of the discipline.[2]

The historical categorization of Solanas and Getino’s essay, “Towards a Third Cinema,” as manifesto illuminates the unfortunate dead-end at which the theory of third cinema has arrived.[3] I call it unfortunate because the most exciting element of third cinema is that which animates its center: its project of risk-taking and speculation. In “One, Two...Third Cinemas,” Jonathan Buchsbaum convincingly argues that the changes Solanas and Getino made to their essay in the years that followed its original Spanish publication in Tricontinental (1969)—changes that are for the most part not reflected in English translation—demonstrate their investment in an evolving theory, rather than a single canonical text.[4] One of the central, persistent ideas in Solanas and Getino’s thinking concerns the necessary instrumentalization of cinema. Their commitment to this process is demonstrated by the shift from a cinema that intervenes to a cinema of action. Buchsbaum reads this shift to action as the basis for the link between third cinema and militant cinema.[5] In this evolution, the relation between third cinema and militant cinema remains an open one, devoid of rigid formulas.

This orientation of third cinema toward openness and action in a political project is what confirms its shift from “Third Cinema” to third cinema, that is, to a mode of thought rather than a mere object. In Buchsbaum’s careful tracing of the subtle revisions made to Solanas and Getino’s essay over the years, I see a microcosm of the “problem” of third cinema in its relation to the discipline of Film Studies. In other words, third cinema kept evolving, while its status in the academy remained relatively unchanged. It is not that Third Cinema was misunderstood—indeed it motivated compelling debates on the pages of Screen throughout the 1980s—but that it never surpassed its objectdom; it never lost the status of a proper noun.[6] The reasons for this misdirection are worthy of speculation, even if they are not entirely mysterious. However, what matters more today is that third cinema is taken up as a confrontation with the matter of thinking and writing about, and with, film.

The risk involved in this endeavor is one of persistence; to return to “old” objects is to forgo the perceived solidity of novel objects. Here, we might recall the legacy of Fanon’s thought on the role of the intellectual. Not only was it a formative element in Solanas and Getino’s practice, but also it is pertinent to our contemporary condition. The work of interpretation, intervention, and action are neither separate nor unnecessary. Third cinema illustrates the inextricability of these acts, for it is at once theory, practice, and object. As such, it tells us more about our own work than could any newly plucked object.

Author biography:

Sara Saljoughi is Assistant Professor of English and Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. She is writing a book on experimental and art cinema in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s.


    1. Mike Wayne, Political Film: The Dialectics of Third Cinema (London: Pluto Press, 2001).return to text

    2. See for example, Lee Grieveson and Haidee Wasson, eds., Inventing Film Studies. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).return to text

    3. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, “Towards a Third Cinema,” trans. Julianne Burton-Carvajal, accessed November 3, 2015, http://documentaryisneverneutral.com/words/camasgun.html. See Jonathan Buchsbaum, “One, Two...Third Cinemas” for an incisive reading of the history of the essay’s translations into English and what that history brings to bear on our understanding of the movement/theory/concept of third cinema in the Anglo-American academy. “One, Two...Third Cinemas,” Third Text 25, 1 (2011): 13-28. return to text

    4. Buchsbaum, 28. return to text

    5. Ibid., 27.return to text

    6. See Julianne Burton, “Marginal Cinemas and Mainstream Critical Theory,” Screen 26, 3-4 (1985): 2-21; Teshome Gabriel, “Colonialism and ‘Law and Order’ Criticism,” Screen 27, 3-4 (1985): 140-148; Jimes Pines and Paul Willemen, eds., Questions of Third Cinema (London: BFI, 1989).return to text