North America

  • A U.S. Human Development Index

The North American region, which includes the Caribbean and Central America, has a population of approximately 533 million (2013) in twenty-three nations. Its dominant languages—Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and creole— attest to the region’s long history of colonization. In spite of this commonality, North American nations span the economic spectrum — ranging from among the world’s richest (e.g. United States and Canada) to among its poorest (e.g. Haiti and Nicaragua).

The World Bank classifies the U.S. and Canada, the region’s northern most nations, as high-income countries with diverse economic sectors contributing significantly to their economic stability and high gross domestic products (GDP). As in most developed nations, the service sector employs more than three quarters of the working population in both countries. Though both countries have average high gross national incomes (GDI), they are among the most income unequal nations in the developed world. Additionally, both nations have highly unequal distributions of wealth, but, while the gap between the richest and the poorest in the U.S. continues to grow[1], this gap remains fairly stable in Canada[2]. Approximately 14.5% of the U.S. population and 9.5% of Canadians live below the poverty line.

The World Bank classifies Mexico, which along with the U.S. and Canada constitute the North American trading bloc, as an upper middle-income country. Primarily an export-oriented manufacturing economy, its economic fortunes are tied more closely to the world economy than with those of the South American nations with which it is culturally grouped. Thus Mexico was more impacted by the 2008 global recession and less influenced by the 2002 South American economic crisis than other Latin American countries. Its poverty level, which has increased steadily since 2006, was estimated to be at 52.3% in 2012. Despite significant economic growth over the last few years, widespread inequality in the distribution of wealth remains.

Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The region’s poverty rate is over 50% though the nations range from high to medium on the Human Development Index (HDI). Tourism, agriculture, and energy are major economic sectors across the region with a reliance on agriculture predicting a significantly lower GDP. Panama is the region’s wealthiest nation while Nicaragua is its poorest, and the intra-national income disparity across the region is, consistently and significantly, higher than those of the U.S. and Canada

The Caribbean makes up the remaining thirteen countries of the North American region: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The region varies greatly across several economic markers, and while some nations have a poverty rate estimated to be lower than that of the U.S. (the Bahamas -12.8%), other countries like Haiti have levels above 60%. The primary economic sectors are agriculture[3], trade, natural resources (oil, mining etc.) and tourism. High and upper middle income nations are more likely to participate in offshore financing and/or oil production while significant reliance on agricultural production, as is the case in Central America, portends a lower GDP. Transparency issues have also been a factor contributing to countries’ economic fortunes.

In addition to its distinct national cinemas, the geographic region of North America is generally divided between North American cinema, which consists of the U.S. and Canadian film industries, and Latin American cinema, which includes Mexican, Central American and Caribbean—as well as South American– films. The epicenters of North American Film production are California, New York, Toronto and Vancouver, and in 2011 the industry produced approximately 900 feature films[4]. For much of film’s history, Hollywood was a dominant and pioneering force, and while still profitable and influential it has been surpassed in the number of films annually produced by Bollywood and in box office revenue by China. Since the conclusion of Hollywood’s Golden Age, American film has been roughly divided between Blockbuster and independent films. Some influential film movements include American New Wave (1950s), Direct Cinema (1960s), L.A. Rebellion (late 1960s- 1991), and New Queer Cinema (1990s). The region hosts hundreds of film festivals each year, dozens with international acclaim– notably the Sundance Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival.

Among the North American nations included under Latin American cinema, Mexico and Cuba have the largest bodies of work and the longest cinematic histories. After the silent film era, the Mexican film industry experienced a Golden Age that lasted from 1930 to 1960—roughly the same period as Hollywood’s. After its decline in the 60s and 70s, Mexican cinema emerged reinvigorated, with state support, in the 1990s. Spanning into the present, Nuevo Cine Mexicano includes many internationally acclaimed Spanish language films like Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Amores Perros (2000), and Biutiful (2010). Cuba experienced a renaissance after the 1959 revolution. Thematically, Cuban diaspora has been a productive theme in the post-revolutionary period, and important movements include Third Cinema (1960s-70s) and Imperfect Cinema (1968–88).

Though attempts to create a “distinctively Caribbean cinematic movement date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s,” there is little consensus on the status and/or cohesiveness of Caribbean cinema: the use of creolite or a “Caribbeing” aesthetic have been offered as defining characteristics (Blasini 73). One of the most important films from the region is Jamaica’s 1972 hit The Harder They Come. In 2013 several Caribbean countries–Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico– joined together at the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival[5] to create The Caribbean Film Mart and Caribbean Film Database[6][7], set to launch in September of 2015. The region boasts just over a dozen self-hosted film festivals, and, because over 50% of the Caribbean’s population has left the region in the diaspora, there are several Caribbean film festivals hosted in Canada, the U.S, and Europe. Though films from Central America are less frequently screened beyond the region, there are festivals centering on its films in, among other places, New York and Japan. Panama and Costa Rica are the region’s filmmaking hubs– in terms of location–both offer large incentives for filmmakers to produce movies in their respective countries[8]. A lack of independent exhibition sites has been a major difficulty in producing local cinema in both Central America and the Caribbean and thus in developing distinctive film industries.



[3]For the 70 percent of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment.






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