Third Cinema is a descriptive and a prescriptive concept that in practice is linked to, yet extends beyond, the historical emergence of "Third World cinema" in West, Southeastern, and Eastern Asia; Africa; Latin America; and the Pacific Basin in the mid-twentieth century. Whereas Third World cinema is loosely tied to processes of decolonization and nation-building and includes industrial filmmaking in its scope, Third Cinema is an ideologically charged and aesthetically meaningful term that denotes the adoption of an independent, often oppositional stance towards commercial genre and auteurist cinemas emanating from the more developed, Western (or Westernized, in the cases of Israel and Australia) capitalist world. As such, Third Cinema is both less geographically bound and more actively shaped by anti-imperialist and counterculture movements that emerged during the 1960s. It points to the inherent power of cinema, as a modern medium of communication, to effect sociopolitical transformation within nations and across continents; and it frequently blends a socialist concern with workers' (and other oppressed peoples') emancipation and democratic access to the media with a commitment to cultural self-determination and artistic innovation.
Optimally, spectators of Third Cinema are enlightened as they critically confront their own reality through an audiovisual (rather than written or academic) analysis and recognize, in the portrayal of others' struggles, circumstances and aspirations that relate to their own. For filmmakers and cultural policymakers, Third Cinema involves the search for a sustainable and socially relevant means of artistic expression in under industrialized and politically unstable or repressive conditions, while striving to promote solidarity among all peoples that have experienced, or continue to grapple with, the yoke of (neo) colonialism, with its racist, ethnocentric, classist, and sexist underpinnings. Third Cinema thus takes areas of national life often neglected by official discourse and industrial cinema and thrusts them into the international limelight. Broadly defined, Third Cinema can be produced with or without the support of the state, and directed by amateurs as well as seasoned professionals. It calls attention to para filmic activity as well as to textual content, exploring alternative modes of production, distribution, and exhibition, sources of aesthetic inspiration, and even the meaning of the terms "professional," "mass," and "art" as they relate to cinema.