Image Credit: Gadalla Gubara, Tajouje (1977)

Anti-colonial feminist film practitioner and researcher Rehana Esmail is the founder and director of Cinelogue, a new global streaming platform that exclusively presents cinema by BIPOC filmmakers from the global majority. Esmail, who holds an MA in Media studies from The New School, was born and raised in the Ruhr area of Germany and is of Pakistani and Iranian descent. Compelled by the emancipatory potential of film, archives, and digital spaces, she founded Cinelogue in 2022 to broaden the film canon beyond its white-washed Western bounds, creating a space for collaboration and critical dialogue. 

As well as platforming a new independent film each week, Cinelogue hosts a library of films, grouped into sections that have been carefully selected by international filmmakers and curators from diverse regional foci in the independent cinema landscape. Ranging from a “bouquet of films” from South Asia and post-Reformasi cinema in Indonesia to emerging voices in Latin America, Cinelogue platforms a diverse thematic array of decolonial films.

Kate Millar: When and why did you decide to start Cinelogue?

Rehana Esmail: I was first drawn to film as a social practice and political tool while I was a student of Media Studies at The New School—the works of Jean-Luc Godard and Chantal Ackerman particularly inspired me.

However, it was only after I graduated that I realized how limited my knowledge was of the various cinema waves from countries of the Global South. Despite not being sufficiently represented in media studies syllabi, these filmmakers had left groundbreaking marks on the arthouse world. This gap of knowledge was directly connected to the continuous effects of colonialism—the hegemonic representation of films and film histories, which often erases filmmakers of the global majority. (People of the global majority are people who are Black, Asian, brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the Global South, or have been racialized as “ethnic minorities.”) Cinelogue uses the term “global majority” to denote that Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color make up over 80 percent of the world’s population.

This made me want to start a collaborative platform and digital archive dedicated to collecting and sharing underrepresented voices in cinema. Cinema is and has historically been utilized as a medium that can help us develop a critical understanding on the human, social, and political conditions of societies. By platforming filmmakers of the Global South, we can gain crucial insights into the intersection of cinema and “post”-colonialism. 

Millar: What do you feel are the stakes of the present moment, with regards to the enduring effects of colonialism?

Esmail: I think it is pivotal to comprehend the fight against colonialism as a transnational, intersectional, and anti-capitalist justice movement, and as something that can only happen by looking inward and outward at the same time. By this I mean the necessity to embark ourselves on a continuous journey of dissection of internalized colonial mentalities—such as our ways of seeing cultural inferiority/superiority, meaning the colonial psyche that [Frantz] Fanon talks about extensively, but also gender binaries and hierarchies that are tied to the nuclear family.

When it comes to cinema, the non-Western world is often projected as a homogenous space without diversity, specificity, and complexity. This results in the visual consumption of films by the global majority as something to be passively gazed upon rather than actively seen. We should carve out time to voice our solidarity loud and clear with those communities fighting for their right to exist dignified and free from hegemonic powers, colonial and imperial dictatorships and regimes. 

I think it is important to look forward and use privileges to build parallel ecosystems and infrastructures that bypass gatekeeping tactics and/or dominating markets. When it comes to knowledge production, I find it extremely important to work from a decentralized approach, meaning providing a stage for critical perspectives and insights from those who are speaking from personal experience rather than institutional knowledge. In Cinelogue, we follow a decentralized approach by always being in collaboration with curators and collectives who are close to the contexts of the films they select.

Millar: How can digital space be used as a tool for decolonial reimagination? 

Esmail: By streaming films globally and giving various communities of the global majority access to their own and each other’s cinema and cinema histories, an alternative infrastructure of film circulation is constructed: one that bypasses gatekeeping structures and dominating independent film industries in Europe and North America. 

The digital space allows us to approach our practice through internationalism by collaborating with film curators, filmmakers, writers, and activists from around the world.

Millar: How does your streaming platform work, and how does it differ from others like Netflix or Mubi?

Esmail: Unlike other collections and streaming platforms, Cinelogue showcases filmmakers who use film as a political and artistic vehicle by putting critical subject matters such as race, gender, and class (amongst many other forms of oppression) at the center of their filmmaking practice.

Through collaborative curation, we want to bring forward a localized understanding and inter-regional connections between different films and their makers.

As a nonprofit, we share 50 percent of our subscription revenue with filmmakers, to create a sustainable economic model that filmmakers can benefit from, facilitating continued relationships between Cinelogue and filmmakers. 

Cinelogue does not see itself as a competitor to existing streaming providers such as Netflix and Mubi, but as a complement to them. Through its unique positioning in the field of arthouse cinema, Cinelogue offers its subscribers a new cultural entertainment and education option beyond mainstream media.

Millar: Where does the “collaborative” aspect of Cinelogue come into play?

Esmail: Cinelogue collaborates on a curatorial level with film collectives and film practitioners. For our first year, we worked with a curator from Ghana, an independent distributor from Panama, a cultural worker and film curator from India, and an art collective from Indonesia. 

For our curated programs, we collaborate with one main curator who has a special relation to the program and who invites various writers, scholars, and activists who produce a special piece of writing for each film. The idea here is to create a unique dialogue through and between the showcased films of the program. 

Millar: This month you’re launching a brand new film library chosen by four curators from South Asia, South East Asia, West Africa, and Central America. Can you tell us a little about these curators?

Esmail: Yes, for the first 100 titles of our soon-to-be-launched film library we are collaborating with curators who hold diverse regional foci in the independent cinema landscape and who carefully sourced a select number of films under a theme of their choosing. The titles will be released throughout the first library year until fall 2024.

Jacqueline Nsiah, who curates Movements Towards Liberation for Cinelogue’s library, is a visual anthropologist and film curator based between Accra and Berlin. She is part of the Berlinale selection committee and co-curated the main program of the Africa Film Festival Cologne 2023, and was also a member of the selection committee at Berlinale Forum for the past four editions, where she co-curated the special program Fiktionsbescheinigung.

A section in our library called “Post-Reformasi Cinema of Indonesia” is curated by Forum Lenteng, an egalitarian non-profit organization focusing on social and cultural development issues based in Jakarta. The forum was established to develop knowledge on media and art by focusing on production, documentation, research, and open distribution. The development of this knowledge then becomes the foundation for the collective to discuss social issues through art and media.

Abhishek Nilamber is a cultural worker engaged in curation, research, and activism, transituated between Berlin and Kochi. He is the instigator of United Screens—a project that enquires into the challenges and opportunities between South to South cinema and video art circulation. His curated library section To Miss The Woods presents a bouquet of films from South Asia that are a labor of love, made with care for community rather than the market. 

Fanny Huc is the co-founder of La Subterránea, a Panamanian film distribution collective that aims to contribute to the diversification of audiovisual media in commercial local theaters. La Subterránea brings Latin American cinema closer to communities outside the city through alternative screenings. Fanny has served as the programming manager for the International Film Festival of Panama and contributed to other film festivals. In her Cinelogue collection Fresh Voices she gives prominence to new voices that express themselves freely and become the subject of their own images, while exploring different ways of thinking about Latin American experiences.

Millar: If you were to dream as big as possible, what would you envision for the future of Cinelogue?

Esmail: My dream is for Cinelogue to become a digital facilitator for collaborative and critical film programming that provides access for various communities of the global majority to their own and each other’s cinema and cinema histories. This means we need to translate films into diverse languages and to think about new infrastructures. 

We want to represent the stories of those subjects and experiences that are not represented sufficiently and bring back the films to the audiences they were meant for and belong to. Cinelogue is part of a larger movement, inspired by and honoring the various cinema movements and filmmakers of the past. We see ourselves as a curatorial intervention within the current cinema landscape that aims, like many others, to change the status quo. 

Kate Millar is a poet and writer from Edinburgh, Scotland, currently based in New York City to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing at The New School.

Rehana Esmail is a film practitioner and researcher of Pakistani Iranian descent, born and raised in the Ruhr area of Germany.