Tag Archives: the yes men

‘Collapse’ Review Link

20 Mar

Collapse (2009).

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)

6 Mar

Films addressing the perils of globalization approach the subject from a variety of angles – there’s the broad satirical sweep of ‘The Yes Men’ (2003), the ideological rigour of ‘The Corporation’ (2003) and the hot-button populism of Michael Moore’s broadsides against corporate hegemony. A companion piece of sorts to ‘Life and Debt’ (2001), which explores the impact of IMF/World Bank edicts on Jamaica, ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ takes to the streets of Tanzania to find the reality behind the statistics.

Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake on earth; the source of the Nile, it is the heart of Africa. In the 1960s the Nile Perch was introduced to the lake, a voracious predator which destroyed all other species in the lake but proved to be ‘good economically’ – its fillets are a valuable commodity. Planes fly constantly into the Mwanza airfield, ostensibly to be filled with fish but also allegedly being used to smuggle weapons to war zones in neighbouring Angola, Liberia, Sudan and DRC. While more than half of its thirty-four million inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day and two million are affected by famine, the planes transport the country’s primary resource to Europe.

‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ presents lives on both sides of the divide – from Eliza, a young woman who sells her services to businessmen for ten dollars a night but yearns to return to school, to Dina, a radio engineer on a plane crew who travels to danger zones around the world but never questions his role in the suffering he sees. Of particular poignancy are the tales of Jonathan, Rafael and Mkono. Jonathan is a talented artist who documents the squalor of the slums, guiding the crew through the townships where children melt fish packages to make glue for sniffing. Raphael is a security guard working at the National Fisheries Institute for a dollar a day; an ex-soldier who yearns for the opportunity another war would bring. Mkono is the camp leader at Ito, an island populated by fishermen and prostitutes. A former teacher, he is the film’s voice of wisdom, commenting that ‘poverty is a vicious cycle and ‘only the strong survive’. To see such talent squandered is the film’s ultimate tragedy.

Writer/director/producer/cinematographer Hubert Sauper dispenses with the usual adjuncts used to prettify the medium; there is no narration and his camerawork has an immediacy that feels almost surreptitious at times – its grainy dimly-lit digital photography lags, judders and blurs on multiple occasions. He captures unfiltered a society where the church discourages women forced into prostitution from using contraception, where fishermen die on a regular basis for want of a doctor, where those in power line their pockets at the expense of their citizens. ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ is rife with powerful metaphors – the crashed planes lining the runway of the airfield, filled with so much fish they were unable to take off, children fighting over a bowl of rice, the flourishing market in fish carcasses discarded by the factories, the huge inflatable Coke bottle rising out of the slums.

‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ conveys the truth in a way that no amount of figures and sophisticated arguments could ever do, by simply showing the rampant AIDS and alcoholism, the milksops of the ‘ecological panel’ prevaricating while faced with a looming environmental disaster, the complete lack of any kind of infrastructure for the poor, the palpable sense of hopelessness and desperation that hangs in the air, the Russian fish pilot who says in dead earnest that ‘black people don’t want to work’.

Sauper paints a bleak picture of a people in thrall to the whims of the market, dissecting a system whereby the developed world imports natural riches and exports chaos. ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ is a devastating indictment of the ‘structural adjustment programs’ imposed on debtor nations, a stellar piece of investigative journalism castigating the high-level corruption and inequality fostered by this homogenous model. Sauper succeeds in forcing us to confront our own complicity, asking us to question why it is we enjoy such a cheap and plentiful supply of goods, showing the consequences of a delicate ecosystem thrown out of balance, imploring us to see Tanzania’s problems as our own.

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