Weekend Roundup: The Power Of The Big Screen


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Images rule dreams. Dreams rule actions. That is the power of Hollywood and the movie industry everywhere. People buy into a narrative more on an emotional than on a rational basis. We adopt a worldview not so much through a considered weighing of ideas, but metaphorically ― through an image we identify with that confers dignity, recognition and status within our own culture, or conveys our common human aspirations. 

This week, The WorldPost looks at a world in transition through the lens of global cinema, from the Venice Film Festival, to Hollywood, and finally, to China, which is expected to soon supplant North America as the largest film market.

“Film often reveals what society is feeling,” WorldPost Executive Editor Kathleen Miles writes, with film critic Brian Formo, from the 74th International Venice Film Festival. “Among the wide array of films were quite a few that capture the uneasy mood of a world shaken by tectonic shifts. National boundaries no longer define identity and race the way they used to. Climate change threatens our way of life and very existence. Genetic editing and artificial intelligence call into question what it means to be human.” The films Miles and Formo highlight include Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” and Stephen Frears’ “Victoria & Abdul.” 

China’s most famous dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, also made waves at the fest with his new documentary ― “Human Flow”― about the refugee crisis that has stirred nationalist and nativist sentiments in Europe. In an interview in Venice, where his film premiered, Ai describes what he encountered on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos: “I saw people wet, falling down, and nobody was helping them. It made me wonder what is in their hearts. Why did they give up everything? They don’t speak the same language [and don’t practice] the same religion. And they’re treated as if they’re not human.” As with his famous display of 9,000 children’s backpacks that evoked students who lost their lives in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai hopes the images of suffering in his documentary will cause viewers to ponder their common humanity and see the limits of nationality. “If we see pureness somewhere as something to be desired, the trouble starts. … Nationality and borders are barriers to our intelligence, to our imagination and to all kinds of possibilities.”

In China itself, a big shift is taking place. As Stan Rosen writes, China is beginning to make its own blockbusters with technical assistance from Hollywood, instead of its film market being dominated by American action epics like “Transformers” or “The Fate of the Furious.” Far and away the highest grossing film in China this year is the domestically produced “Wolf Warrior 2.” While Rosen notes that “politics commands even the entertainment industry in China,” he muses that “Wolf Warrior 2” owes its popularity not only to its nationalistic tone, but to the nuanced adoption of the subversive Hollywood meme of the “antihero” — a rogue figure who stands up for the people against the authorities.

The legendary producer Mike Medavoy looks back at how Hollywood has changed from a community striving to make art to a business driven by investors who only want to finance blockbusters they can bank on. But, he says, “making movies is not like manufacturing a pair of shoes.” In pursuit of a jackpot on the big screen, Medavoy laments, “the studios are making the same movie over and over again.” 

Back in the off-screen world, Stefan Ihrig writes from Haifa, Israel about the growing rift between Germany and Turkey. In the run-up to German elections later this month, leading politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, are taking a page from the populists by calling for an end to the the process of Turkey’s accession to the European Union.   

Italian political scientist Fabrizio Tassinari examines the “centrist backlash” against populism and a return to the politics of integration in Europe, which he sees as a “microcosm of globalization.”

Finally, inventor and investor Bill Joy believes he has grasped the “holy grail” of a long-lasting, rechargeable solid state battery that promises to decentralize the energy grid and speed decarbonization. “As monster floods and blistering droughts afflict the planet, what could be more important than hugely accelerating the cost reductions and storage capacity necessary to decisively shift the trajectory to renewables?” he asks. “Time is an ethical dimension. And we have no time to waste.” 

Other highlights in The WorldPost this week:

For more on the complex and evolving relationship between Hollywood and China, check out our WorldPost video, adapted from this week’s interviews with Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy and China scholar Stan Rosen, below:

Nathan Gardels, Editor-in-ChiefKathleen Miles, Executive Editor Dawn Nakagawa, Vice President of OperationsFarah Mohamed, Managing Editor Peter Mellgard, Features Editor Alex Gardels, Video Editor Clarissa Pharr, Associate Editor Rosa O’Hara, Social Editor Suzanne Gaber, Editorial Assistant

MISSION STATEMENT: The WorldPost is a global media platform published by the Berggruen Institute that aims to make sense of an interdependent yet fragmenting world. We publish news, features and first-person voices from all corners of the planet, looking around with a global perspective rather than looking out from a national viewpoint. Follow us on Facebook (and Twitter, InstagramYouTube and LinkedIn).

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Eric Schmidt, Pierre Omidyar, Arianna Huffington, Juan Luis Cebrian, Walter Isaacson, John Elkann, Wadah Khanfar, Yoichi Funabashi

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim, Nayan Chanda, Katherine Keating, Sergio Munoz Bata, Parag Khanna, Seung-yoon Lee, Jared Cohen, Bruce Mau, Patrick Soon-Shiong

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Zheng Bijian, Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland, Guy Verhofstadt