Monday, December 24, 2007

Wishing you folks a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!!

Pic found via a google image search sourced from Larissa's blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)

Director: Hubert Sauper

Writer: Hubert Sauper


Runtime: 107 min

Official website:

I finally managed to watch Hubert Sauper’s Oscar nominated documentary Darwin’s Nightmare I had the DVD for about 2 months from Netflix). This is really a “must watch” documentary.

The idea for this documentary was born during Sauper’s research on another documentary KISANGANI DIARY that follows Rwandese refugees during the Congolese rebellion.

In 1997, I witnessed for the first time the bizarre juxtaposition of two gigantic airplanes, both bursting with food. The first cargo jet brought 45 tons of yellow peas from America to feed the refugees in the nearby UN camps. The second plane took off for the European Union, weight with 50 tons of fresh fish.
I met the Russian pilots and we became "kamarads". But soon it turned out that the rescue planes with yellow peas also carried arms to the same destinations, so that the same refugees that were benefiting from the yellow peas could be shot at later during the nights.

At some point in the 60’s someone introduced the “Nile Perch” (It is one the largest fresh water fish capable of growing up to six feet and weigh almost 200 kg about 440 lb) a fish that is not native to Lake Victoria in Tanzania as a kind of scientific experiment. The perch is a fierce natural predator and has since taken over the lake and can be held responsible for causing the extinction or near-extinction of several hundred native species especially the native cichlids. In the face of the declining numbers of cichlids, in a macabre twist it has now taken to devouring its own young. So while the perch has destroyed native species it has given rise to a booming commercial fish industry almost completely dependent on the perch, a fish so expensive that the Tanzanians cannot afford it, but is made in to filets and exported to European markets with a huge appetite for the fish.

Saupert armed with a hand held camera and the barest of narration, documents the lives and conditions under which they live and work. The documentary is framed by the arrival and departure of gigantic Soviet made cargo planes, at an airport in Mwanza, Tanzania along Lake Victoria. Each plane will carry 55 tons of perch fillets processed by a local factory and caught by local fishermen.

Saupert examines the economy and ecology around the lake. As the documentary unfolds we learn of the famine in Central Tanzania which causes migration of people from the hinterlands to the lake. The people working in the industry around the fish settle in one of “thousand islands” working colonies which consist of young fishermen and prostitutes from the back country who work amongst them and call themselves as girlfriends of the many “pilots” of the planes that fly out with perch filets.

Particularly touching is the story of Eliza who is a girlfriend to many pilots (photo is of hers from the documentary), who wants to get out and go to school. She is killed by an Australian client of hers.

There also those here afflicted with the scourge of AIDS who have nowhere left to go but back to their homes to die.

These aren’t the only players that we get to meet, we see the fish factory managers, African ministers, street children some of whom are fighting over scraps of food cooked from the skeletal remains of perch and getting high from sniffing the melting plastic containers used to pack the fish and EU officials all interested in furthering this trade in fish. I have seen a lot of poverty in India but that scene of the children fighting over the scraps of food just broke my heart.

But these are not the only scenes in the movie that will grab you, there are shots of rows of fish heads sticking out of the ground, rotting skeletal remains of the fish being hung out to dry, or being eaten after cooked in open air pits and also serving as make shift toys. There are shots of the remains of some planes on the banks of the lake Victoria that were so overloaded with fish that they could not make it out. The natural shots of the lake are stunning and for a moment lulled me to the nature of the ecological disaster within its waters.

Saupert’s movie is a visual masterpiece because it does not have much of a narration. It lets the story reveal itself thru the riveting images of the people simple conversations and of landscape in a place where all their lives are tied to this fish.

Darwin’s Nightmare” is a harrowing look at the human cost of untrammeled globalization, which does not leave anyone untouched and is meant to appeal to our conscience. I will quote Saupert’s words to end this post..

The old question, which social and political structure is the best for the world seems to have been answered. Capitalism has won. The ultimate forms for future societies are "consumer democracies", which are seen as "civilized" and "good". In a Darwinian sense the "good system" won. It won by either convincing its enemies or eliminating them.

In DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE I tried to transform the bizarre success story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this "fittest" animal into an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bolivia.. Not a movie review.

Bolivia (2001), Argentina, Director: Adrián Caetano

Bolivia is a bleak, gray movie shot in black and white with a grainy look to it, which I thought just added to the mood of this absorbing movie. It examines the intersection of anger, poverty, and harsh economic conditions that almost always bring xenophobia boiling to the surface.

The setting is the somewhat rundown Parrilla restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the days of that nation’s economic crisis that began in the end of 1999. (link) but it could be anywhere in the world. Adrián Caetano's direction coupled with the excellent camera work make this rather simple story that revolves around the lives of characters at the bottom rung of the ladder in society gripping, human and yet horrifying.

The movie opens with a sign on the window “Cook Wanted”. The owner is the brusque Enrique (Enrique Liporace) who hires Freddy (Freddy Flores) a poker faced immigrant who has just arrived from his native La Paz, Bolivia, for 15 pesos a day. While the movie opens there is also a soccer game on between Argentina and Bolivia, with the latter being thrashed on the field and trashed by the announcer for their poor defense. This was an allegorical moment in this movie, laying the setting for a nationalistically tinged dismissive attitude towards the Bolivians that is then repeated in the movie in numerous ways that the camera captures brilliantly. “Bolivia” has an understated way of stating its case and uses a no frills approach that works for it surely had my attention.

The livelihood of Freddy is tied to that restaurant, as is that of another immigrant Rosa (Rosa Sánchez), who is hit upon by many customers of the cafe and being Paraguayan also the recipient of slurs, that she deals with a calm face, but has none of the wariness of the more recently arrived Freddy. I wondered if that was her “been there ..heard that one before” weariness hidden beneath a peaceful looking exterior.

The restaurant is a place to eat and commiserate and for those struggling on the margins of society in their own country a lifeline of sorts. It is that for the down on his luck Oso (Oscar Bertea), who is broke and almost going under and relies on Enrique for food and drink on his steadily growing tab. Freddy is an easy target for Oso, but also for pretty much any one else who chooses to pick on him. It takes the form of the very telling looks of the guys who are running an unauthorized telephone call center when they know where he is from, to the two policemen who stop Freddy the first night after work, who are openly disdainful of him.

That first night Freddy goes to sleep in another restaurant paying a peso for his coffee and begins another day filled with cleaning tables, working the grill and enduring the hostile stares and words of customers who resent the fact that Freddy an interloper gets to work while they, the citizens of their country struggle. Lest you wonder that there are no tender moments in the movie, there are.. the brusque Enrique while exploiting them for the cheap labor does have his nice side and Rosa and Freddy after a night out, come together in a frenzied, desperate intimacy born of people who are both outsiders in that country.

The movie ends in a stunning climax where all the resentments that have festered just boil and explode in one life altering moment. The movie ends as it began, with Enrique seen putting up a sign “Cook Wanted” on his restaurant window coming a full metaphorical circle, about the lives of those that are often invisible at the margins of society.