Darwin’s Nightmare

Darwin's Nightmare (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Hubert Sauper
viewed: 06/28/07

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

That is, unless you create a giant fishing industry, funded and run by foreign business and exporting all the fish flesh to the EU.  And what does this proverb mean if you feed the man/people with fish heads and bones and tails. This film depicts the ongoing tragedy of exploitation of the people and resources of Tanzania and other parts of Africa by European and other countries and firms.

Hubert Sauper’s documentary covers a lot of ground of badness, sadness, and, yes,…nightmare.  In an interview attached to the DVD, Sauper points out that everyone knows that there is war in Africa, astronomical HIV infection rates, orphaned street children, exploitation of the people and lands…but how deeply those things are interrelated and how much one thing has causal effects elsewhere.  Sauper was inspired to film this documentary when he had worked with some Russian pilots who delivered both arms and aid to Africa, sometimes in the same airplane.  He said there would be guns in one part of the plane, food in another.  Other times, land mines in one side, prosthetic limbs in another.

But further, this film does address the delivery of weapons to African nations (the import) and the leeching of massive amounts of fish from Lake Victoria (the export), while within the country of Tanzania, there is a famine.  It is shocking to see the kids fighting over a small bowl of rice and fish, while on the banks of the second largest lake in the world, the source for this booming fishing industry that is sending high-priced fillets to the EU.

The EU, the World Bank, and the IMF helped build this industry over the past 15 years, with the intention of helping Tanzanians (hopefully), while creating financial opportunities for established industry leaders in the West.  The result has created a blight, a stark situation in which the resources are gobbled up by the wealthy, who do not even live on the same continent, and the result on the banks of Lake Victoria, farming has been abandoned for fishing, families have separated, prostitution has spread HIV dramatically (80-90% infection rates in some of the fishing “villages”), and children, living off the scraps of the bounty, getting high from sniffing boiled fish bones (bizarre).

The documentary is shot on video, with lots of interviews of people who have strong accents that can be hard to follow, and lacks a dramatic structure that hits home like a ton of bricks, like some films can.  The facts speak for themselves, which I think is Sauper’s intent, not giving any voice-over commentary, “telling” us what is happening.  He speaks to the fact that he (or other reporters) often do not know what is happening all the time.  There are some facts and details displayed in intertitles.  It’s effective, it’s brutally depressing to realize things that I think many of us actually know, but are separated from the facts, the reality, the world of this place to such an extent that it is hard to fully comprehend.

Darwin’s Nightmare is the survival of the wealthiest, more than anything.  Maybe that is the fitness of global corporate culture.

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