"Entertainment is part of our American diplomacy," US President Barack Obama told a crowd last year at a DreamWorks Animation facility. In 2013, it was the Hollywood production Iron Man 3 that made the biggest splash globally, bringing in over $1bn at the box office. In fact, the top 500 grossing films of all time are Hollywood productions.
Hollywood has increasingly made huge inroads into other countries’ box office markets with its blockbusters and studio investments. While countries like China limit the number of foreign films that can be shown at theatres annually, and other countries rely on government assistance to buoy local industries and counter Hollywood’s influence, the US still finds a way to woo non-American audiences.
But at a time when Hollywood’s global reach has never been greater, and as it rakes in millions of dollars each year, what does the dominance of the US entertainment industry say about its power to shape perceptions about society, culture and history? And does this economic and diplomatic might make Hollywood a chronicle of American power?
Empire heads to California to speak to leading directors, producers, film critics and cinema historians to decipher how Hollywood interacts with and affects the rest of the world.
We examine how Hollywood films tackle reality and shape historical events, often walking a tightrope between fact and fiction, and ask whether it is for the better or the worse. And we analyse how, if American cinema is considered a diplomatic tool, what it communicates to the rest of the world about the US and how it wields power.
We speak to industry insiders and learn what strategic commercial and cultural considerations are being made in Hollywood today. We seek views from key players in Bollywood, another powerful industry, and speak to filmmakers in France about the state of French cinema and how it is perceived vis-a-vis the cultural invasion or dominance of American films.
Joining us to discuss these topics are: Oliver Stone, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker whose films deal with real-life events; John Hillcoat, a LA-based Australian filmmaker who directed Lawless and the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road ; Nicky Weinstock, a studio executive with Lionsgate TV who has been involved with the films Get him to the Greek, Pineapple Express, and Bridesmaids; Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian filmmaker whose most recent film, Omar , is nominated for an Oscar; Tim Grierson, a film and music critic, the vice president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and author of four books including FilmCraft: Screenwriting, a profile of the world’s greatest screenwriters; Priya Jaikumar, a historian and theorist focusing on the cinema of colonial and postcolonial eras at the University of Southern California; and Ed Rampell, a writer, film critic, historian and author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.
We also have contributions from BAFTA-winning Joshua Oppenheimer, the maker of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, about Indonesian death squad leaders; Anurag Kashyap, a major Indian director and producer who has made Bollywood commercial and artistic successes such as Gangs of Wasseypur and Dev D; Ronnie Screwvala, the founder of the Indian media and entertainment group UTV, now owned by Walt Disney; and Bob Swaim, an American Paris-based filmmaker who has had an extensive career working primarily in the European industry, and his students at The International Film and Television School.
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