Debt in All its Forms
I am fairly sure that when we think of debt, we think of personal situations when we owe on our house, our car and our personal loans. In this adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s nonfiction “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth” we get a look at debt in all of its forms–societal, personal, environmental, spiritual, criminal, and economic. This film was the official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and a 2012 theatrical release and it will certainly make you think and look at debt in a completely different way. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and coming to us on DVD from Zeitgeist Films, this is one documentary that needs to be seen by everyone. The film looks at “some intriguing debtor/creditor relationships: two families in a years-long Albanian blood feud; the BP oil spill vs. the Gulf Coast; mistreated Florida tomato farm workers and their bosses; imprisoned media mogul Conrad Black and the U.S. justice system. With stunning cinematography and insightful commentary, the film is a brilliant, game-changing rumination on the subject.
Payback features appearances by Margaret Atwood; economist-activist Raj Patel; International Crisis Group CEO and former war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour; ecological economist William Rees; religious history commentator Karen Armstrong; and writer Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation)”.
The film looks at the ideas that are universally held about debt and then makes intellectual and philosophical connections all over the world and even though everyone (as stated previously) should see this film, it will probably appeal to a very limited but appreciative audience. The documentary shifts back and forth between Atwood speaking and writing and a guilty drug addict in prison, tomato farmers in Florida who are abused, the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana and a family in Albania who are forced to remain on their property because of an ancient code. This is a film whose goal it is to question injustice but for some reason it begins to argue for generosity and open-heartedness while it looks at greed, vengeance and exploitation.
The film is built on the focus of the social implications that are the result of owing money and it does so with style and grace.
“Baichwal’s footage of the Gulf’s petroleum-slicked fowl being sprayed by an environmental-cleanup team, the near-frenzy of the tomato pickers’ workday in the fields, and the rusting ruin of the defunct Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia exerts power through the unseen main actors: the BP directors who cut corners (though few details are supplied here), the farm workers’ employers whose crimes have extended to literal slavery, the reformers and prisoners of the pioneering ESP. Her more prosaic tools are interviews with scholars on market economics, ecology, and human rights, whose views cover such a breadth of crises that the “debt” theme nearly spirals out of control, seemingly applicable to nearly all failures of civilization; contemplating the unceasing devouring of Earth’s resources, the ecologist William Rees suggests that “humans have become a rogue species,” racking up an ever-expanding deficit of natural assets”.
We do get a slight taste of hope by showing a way of balancing the debit ledger of civilization with altruism and if this is what it takes, then the time has come to do so.
- Posted in: Film