Political Film Society - Newsletter #280 - June 1, 2007

June 1, 2007


BamakoBamako, directed by Abderrammane Sissako, is filmed in a residential neighborhood within Mali’s capital, Bamako. The principal scene is that of a trial in which residents are the plaintiff and world capitalism (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, G8, the United States, and “their accomplices”) is the defendant. The scene shifts back and forth between the trial and the actual conditions of poor Bamako residents. Haggard men testify that they are unemployed, while most women are busily making textiles, washing clothes, feeding infants, and providing entertainment; conspicuously absent are virile young men. The case for the plaintiff is that Africa has declined economically after 25 years of “structural adjustment.” Statistics of increased disease, significant infant mortality (10 million children die yearly), and shortened life expectancy are validated when the camera films conditions in the neighborhood. Several factors are cited to explain the decline on a continent that was once economically self-sufficient and prosperous: (1) colonialism, (2) unpaid loans on aid projects that did not benefit the people, (3) interest on the loan, (4) privatization of education, health care, railways, and other government functions to pay the interest, (5) unemployment after multinational corporations bought privatized companies and laid off “excess” employees, and (6) unaffordable rates charged by privatized education and health enterprises. The principal witness for the defense argues that the World Bank has to deal with many issues, but the African problem is mostly corrupt governments, such as purchases of pens at three times the normal cost.

Former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is specifically cited as the one leading the anti-corruption campaign as well as his role as an architect of the Iraq War, on which the United States has spent more than enough that could be used to eliminate all the problems of Africa’s debt, disease, and unemployment. In the middle of the film there is a brief “film within a film” entitled “Death in Timbuktu,” in which various non-African gunslingers enter town and kill innocent people, perhaps a reminder that wars in Africa have also sapped the energy of the survivors. After the court hears the pleadings, the film allows filmviewers to decide upon a verdict. As an extraordinarily eloquent forum in which African democracy at the local level exposes the tragedy of globalization, the Political Film Society has nominated Bamako for awards as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2007. MH

Golden DoorGolden Door (Nuovomondo), directed by Emanuele Crialese, reenacts experiences faced by many immigrants arriving in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. The primary focus is on the family of Salvatore Mancuso (played by Vincenzo Amato), whose difficult, traditional lives in rural Sicily are ably portrayed when the film begins. In those days, exports from America to Europe were far greater than imports. Since ships needed ballast for the return voyage, they lowered the price on human cargo so much that even poorer Europeans could afford to travel, albeit in steerage. The film shows their trek to the port city in Italy, the loading process, the trip across the Atlantic, and the processing of arrivals from many nations at Ellis Island. Laws restricting immigrants existed, so immigrants had to be free from contagious diseases or hereditary infirmities. Filmviewers see physical and mental exams, the latter because of the view that low intelligence is heritable. Single women could not enter the country, on the presumption that they would become prostitutes, so most married single men already in the country, as arranged beforehand, at Ellis Island before entry. The movie’s focus on several persons who were in the rational-bureaucratic process of being accepted and rejected is a classic. MH