Two films dissect the destructive forces wrought by capitalism on the world, and the commodification of all it has to offer. The land, livelihood and the history of humans and animals alike all serve as fodder for the grinding gears of the machine. Does this constitute an act of war?
One dusty afternoon in a South American farm field, workers pick, produce, chop branches and complete other manual tasks. Infants are tied to the backs of their mothers and even those barely old enough to walk help their parents in the fields. These people work in food production and farming all of their lives – all the while belonging to some of the most deprived and emaciated populations in the world. They are forced to grow «cash crops» for export, like their counterparts in several African countries or India – tying them to a lifetime of servitude and sickness.
The Swiss festival Visions du Reel has been screening documentary films since 1969 and has since then acquired the reputation of being one of the most important documentary film events in the world. This year’s programme explains why: In the picturesque town of Nyon by the Geneva lake, 174 documentaries from 53 countries have been shown, their subjects ranging from intimate portraits to examinations of European and global political issues.
The Canadian-Swiss documentary Dispossession by Mathieu Roy addresses the desperate realities of small farmers worldwide. Together with its predecessor, The Dispossessed, it works as an effective critique of the exploitation within the global agriculture industry.
Dispossession illustrates the cyclical nature of hunger, debt and privation instigated by modern global farming methods. The documentary shows workers who exert themselves to the bone or disintegrate from chronic diseases, a consequence of physical realities, such as exposure to poisonous tobacco fields.
Seeing Dispossession together with The Dispossessed, the viewer soon realises that any protective measures and regulations that we take for granted, that might allow for people’s rights and health are the preserve – or even the luxury of Western countries. As one of the interviewees of the films attests, there is a war ensuing, even if mostly fought via the economy and not with weapons.
Commodification of climate change
Maybe the answer is science? With our heightened capabilities in terms of biological and technical engineering, maybe society will soon devise a means by which to take the fiscal and physical pressure off humans? A Canadian documentary by Matthieu Rytz, Anote’s Ark, explores the relevance of technological development to society at large. Anote’s Ark explores the idea of a Japanese-designed aquatic high-rise system that could withstand waves and save the people of a disparate island nation, set to succumb to rising sea levels.
«Dispossession illustrates the cyclical nature of hunger, debt and privation instigated by modern global farming methods.»
The Pacific Island nation of Kiribati – a republic composed of some 33 different islands and atolls. Kiribati is, unsurprisingly, one of the strongest advocates for global action on climate change. By the end of the century it will be submerged as a result of climate change. The most common (but not especially reassuring) advice the Kiribati get is to relocate somewhere else. But the simple fact stands that even the airfare is too expensive for many, and such a high-rise system would cost millions of dollars. «This is an act of war and we don’t have the means to counter,» says Anote Tong, the former president of Kiribati, referring to global indifference from unaffected nations, which has been made even more apparent after the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
What is to be done?