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  • Jennifer Green

Are Remakes the Fast Fashion of Film? (AWFJ)

One of the less flashy novelties of this year's Cannes Film Festival, which kicked off last week in the south of France, is a new one-day market event called “Cannes Remakes,” where 11 movies from three European countries will be pitched to producers as fodder for new versions. The market takes place Monday, May 20.


I’ve been thinking a lot about the format of the remake lately. I was recently tasked with reviewing two very different films on the same weekend – a new Spanish romantic comedy on Netflix called Love, Divided and the Max documentary Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion.


The first is a Madrid-set remake of the 2015 French film, Blind Date, about a man and a woman whose apartments share a paper-thin wall through which they fall in love. The other offers an exposé of alleged exploitative practices and executive misbehavior at the global fashion brand Brandy Melville, and a condemnation of the practice and waste of wear-and-toss “fast fashion.”


At first glance, the two films have nothing in common, but watching them back-to-back got me thinking about the parallels. It made me wonder: Are remakes the fast fashion of film?

 English-language remakes of international films are nothing new, but "local-language" remakes (eg, French to Spanish) are a growing trend. The new Cannes market is evidence of this. The festival announced the initiative as a way to tap into the increased demand for “intellectual property” – read: ideas and products – driven by the streaming platforms.


“Film remakes, in particular, have established themselves as a lucrative venture in the marketplace as they offer lower risk and proven marketability,” the festival explained.


Similarly, the clothes sold at Brandy Melville are low cost and low risk to make, sometimes based on other stores’ designs and marketed to a faithful yet vulnerable teen-girl audience, according to the Brandy Hellville documentary. The clothes are made quickly and cheaply, and they don’t last long, the film asserts, which is why they’re called “fast fashion” – you buy it, wear it and discard it.


But where do the discards go? The documentary-makers travel to a port city in Ghana, where a bustling marketplace is inundated with used clothes tossed away by customers of brands like Brandy, Zara, Shein, H&M and others. It’s a dumping ground for unwanted fast fashion.


Ghana is strong-armed by wealthier countries to receive this waste, according to sources interviewed in the film, and the clothes arrive by the boatload. The result doesn’t just impact the locals; muddy heaps of garments sit rotting on beaches, polluting our shared seas with microfibers.


It seems we’re making movies only to toss them away, too. Where's the dumping ground for the original films sold for remake? Maybe it’s the back catalogues on streaming platforms, which – as anyone who has scrolled for something to watch on a Friday night knows – feel a little like an impenetrable pile of used clothes on a Ghanaian beach. 


I could be muddying my own waters with this analogy, but I think the parallel is there. 


In Brandy Hellville, an interviewee calls the situation in Ghana and the working conditions in some international production facilities, which especially impact women, a continuation of colonialism. In the film industry, when it used to be mostly Hollywood remaking international, non-English language films, people often decried an imperialist dynamic at work.


Local-language remakes like Love, Divided might reveal less of a one-way industry structure, but they underscore that Hollywood is still the only consistently global film producer and distributor. 


What seems like a juicy business proposal for local businesses and talents, as the new Cannes market highlights, also feels like a somewhat bizarre cultural one, especially in this globalized day and age, where dubbing is increasingly an option on streaming services. If subtitles are no longer the main barrier for people not to watch films and series from other countries, what’s stopping us? 


Who are the victims of the fast fashion of film? I’d suggest we all are. Echo chambers exist in entertainment, too. The more we limit ourselves to our own ideas and stories, the less we know about each other. Maybe, as with our polluted oceans, we all lose out when we only think, act – and watch – locally.


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