Diamonds and Rust is a classic inside, vérité look at the way we have divided the world

Tue Steen Müller

Previous founder/editor of the DOX magazine.

Sadly enough, all your prejudices are confirmed in this film about a diamond mining ship off the Namibian coast. On the upper decks you meet white people and a couple of Cubans, and on the lower decks, black people and some other Cubans working hard for low wages. The white people pick the diamonds under camera surveillance. The black people do the dirty work. Somewhere far away from Namibia and from the film itself, rich people are selling and buying the diamonds.

Why watch this film if nothing is new? Because the filmmakers brilliantly succeed in making the characters come across as human beings. The stereotyped picture is broken thanks to the two filmmakers who filmed there for months. Once again you are reminded that time is precious in documentary filmmaking.

cover-2756Diamonds symbolise wealth. A ship digging up the diamonds from the sea off the Namibian coast symbolises our world in miniature. With its problems, conflicts, joy and anger. With several nationalities on board whose skin colours differ, the scene is set for tension and racism. The pay is low and their cabins cramped. They don’t have any private life, they can listen to music, watch films on the video, eat and drink, masturbate – or write poems, as one of the Cubans does, or write letters to family and friends back home.

The faces behind Yulari Films: Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash.

”They make us work as slaves in our own country,” one of the Namibian workers says, which the film demonstrates to the fullest by showing the appalling working conditions in the lower depths of the ship. ”I have never been down there,” states one of the South African superiors. He is not the only one who utters obviously bigoted statements, and the attitudes of a couple of white South Africans only make you feel very, very sad. You silently applaud when you hear that one of them has been – literally – pissed on by a black worker. The ”top asshole”, as he is called by one of his colleagues, is the Israeli manager on board, who gets into conflicts with everyone. They danced on board the day he left the ship to go home to his pregnant wife!

Even he comes across as a character, if not to love, as that would an exaggeration, but to be interested in. The Cubans, especially the captain of the ship, are the darlings of this film that has been made with a lot of warmth and curiosity. The point of view is clear: there is a sharp class division on this ship, but basically they are all losers. The winner would never dream of watching this fascinating and powerful slice of life.


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