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Issue 103

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WATER[image, unknown] Book reviews

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NEW BOOKS

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This month's 'new books' are films! The award-winning `Bottle Babies' roused public feeling about the artificial babymilk issue. By popular request, we look at this and other documentaries that bring the problems of Third World poverty closer to home.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

Films for change

Peter Krieg's stark documentary Bottle Babies was one of the most effective means of rousing public concern about the aggressive promotion of artificial babymilk in the Third World. Nestles rated it 'the cornerstone' of the boycotters' campaign and mounted a counter-campaign to discredit the film. But it did more than draw attention to one issue. It was a powerful indictment of the way transnational corporations dominate all our lives and further impoverish the very poor (Teldok).

One of the most ambitious projects for providing a mass audience with visual information about the North-South relationship is Five Billion People, directed by Nicole Duchene and Claude Lortie, and produced by French-Canadian television (1979-80). A series of 13 episodes, each 27 minutes long, it gravitates around the world economic system. The episode entitled The Conspiracy, or how the transnationals do it most succinctly portrays the central theme; other episodes explore aspects of North-South relations like trade, aid, migration and financial institutions (Available from Unifilm).

The harijans ('untouchables') of India are helping to organise themselves into village unions called 'Sanghams'. Peter Krieg and Heidi Knott in a 30 minute film simply called Sangham record the harijans' own perceptions of how their lives are now changing as they liberate themselves from dependency (Teldok).

Films made in the Third World itself present an alternative view of reality to those of us accustomed to Western mass media. The impressive work of the Cuban Film Institute provides not just a non-Western but a non-capitalist viewpoint. The Teacher (1977,113 mins) by Octavia Cortazar, recounting the literacy campaign following the Cuban revolution, is one such example (Unifilm; Cinegate). Check with the distributors listed at the end for details of film-reports made in numerous other Third World countries including India, Brazil, and Mexico.

Indigenous minorities - like Aborigines in Australia and Indians in the Americas have in recent years stepped up their struggles to retain their land rights and to defend themselves against ethnocide, or even genocide.

The movement to retain land rights is documented in films such as: The Maori Land Struggle (1980, 22 min.) by Leonard Henny, about the indigenous protest movement in New Zealand. (Concord/Unifilm/Sydney Co-op) and We Are Samit (24 min.) by the Swedish Institute about the Lapps living in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the USSR (Swedish Consulates).

The movement against genocide and ethnocide is documented in the following films: Our Land is our Life (1974, 58 min.) by Boyce Richardson and Tony Ianuzielo about Indians in Northern Canada. (NFBC). Crow Dog (1979, 57 min.) by Mike Cuesta and David Baxter, about the Sioux medicine man, spiritual leader of 89 tribes (Unifilm/Dec Films). Listen Caracas (1979, 19 min.) by Carlos Azpurua, a filmed declaration by Borne Yavari, the last surviving Yecuana Chaman (chief) in the interior of Venezuela (Cimra/Unifilm). The Blood of the Condor (1969, 72 min.) by Jorge Sanjines about the sterilisation of Indian women in Bolivia (The Other Cinema/ Unifilm). My Survival (1979) by Effie Coffie about an Aboriginal mother teaching her children their own culture in modern Australia (Sydney Co-op).

The resistance against the mining companies raises a much broader issue: the right to implement 'modern progress' at the expense of people who do not benefit and do not wish to benefit from modern technology and resource exploitation.

This issue is explored in The Disposessed (1970, 33 min.) by George Ballis, Maia Sorotor, Judy Whally and Peter Rand, about the Pitt River Indians' actions against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (Unifilm); and in Dirt Cheap (1980, 88 min.) by Marg Clancy, David Hay and Ned Larder, about the resistance of Aborigines against the uranium mining companies in Australia (Sydney Co-op/Contemp Films).

We would like to thank Leonard Henry; an educational film-maker based at the Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, for his help in the preparation of this article.

For further information contact:

Cimra, 218 Liverpool Road, London N I, UK.

Concord Film Council Ltd., 201 Felixtowe Road, Ipswich, UK.

The Other Cinema, 79 Wardour Street, London W IV 3PH, UK,

Liberation Films, 2 Chichele Road, London NW2, UK.

Survival International, 36 Craven Street, London WC2N 5NG, UK.

Unifilm, 419 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. US.

Dec Films, 121 Avenue Road, Toronto M5R 2G3, Can.

Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative, P.0 Box 217 King's Cross, N S W, Aus. 2011.

Third World Newsreel, 160 Fifth Avenue, Suite 911, New York, N.Y. 10001, US.

National Film Board of Canada, Toronto/New York/London.

Swedish Consulates (around the world).

Contemporary Films, 55 Greek Street, London WIV 6DB, UK.

Cinegate, Gate Cinema, 87 Notting Hill Gate, London W11, UK.

Connoisseur Films, Glenbuck House, Glenbuck Road, Surbiton, UK.

Teldok Films, Schillerstr. 52, D-7800 Freiburg, W. Germ.

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Alternative '81

Late December 1981: A year in the life of the earth is drawing to an end. And in its dying days, television screens all over the world will be showing again the 'main events' of the last twelve months.

The mixture is predictable: glimpses of wars, a dash of famine, snatches of revolutions; blurred images of who shot the Pope, shot the popstar, shot the Scarsdale dietician, maybe even who shot JR, a lascivious hurray for the resurrected (sic) miniskirt: a tasty concoction of politicians and 'personalities', bad news spiced by gossip.

It will look like nothing much was done by ordinary people, nor happened to them, in 1981. Ninety-nine per cent of the people in the world will, literally, be left out of the picture.

But this year viewers in several nations will have the chance to look back on 1981 from the point of view of the human family as a whole. Global Report, a two-hour documentary prepared by the BBC in association with the United Nations and the New Internationalist, investigates the processes behind the headline-catching events - the underwater iceberg instead of the over-exposed tip. What really changed the lives of millions of people this year?

Did 1981, for example, see the world a healthier place? Of the 122 million babies born this year, one in ten is now dead or dying. Yet 1981 also saw two million Primary Health Care workers in action across the world. The film introduces us to Saleh Hamshali, a barefoot doctor whose entire 'surgery' is carried in a canvas bag slung over his shoulder. In a remote village in South Yemen,we watch him as he saves a baby's life. Through his work we can see how much is being done - with how little - to bring health to the world family of four billion.

And every viewer will be aware that jobs have been harder to come by this year. But why, in a world where so much needs to be done, was a third of the world's workforce unemployed? The film shows the difficulty of creating jobs when people are too poor to buy what workers make. And it explores the dilemma for both sides when jobs in the industrialised world compete with jobs in the poor world.

The impact of this documentary comes not only from its sensitivity and penetration, but also from the viewers' recognition that they are part of the human family whose story they are watching. Don't miss it.

Anna Clark

Global Report will be available from mid-December as two 60 min films. Contact your local BBC Enterprises representative for pre-sale details.


CLASSICS

A.T. Ariyaratne
Collected Works
... being the book that awoke the rural giant in Sri Lanka

WHEN I WAS a small girl growing up in Sri Lanka, my mother taught me a prayer that was easy to remember but not always easy to say sincerely: 'May all living beings be well and happy.' Some nights, from a dark comer of the heart crept a secret wish, if not for harm, for less than goodwill towards some childhood enemy; the bitterness would have to be recognised and defused before the prayer could be spoken honestly.

It was many years before I realised that this philosophy of detachment and compassion was not my mother's own invention but a sign of how deeply Sri Lankan culture is steeped in Buddhism. So I shouldn't really have been surprised last week to come across that same childhood prayer in the Collected Works of A. T. Ariyaratne - twice in the first volume. He, too, is a Sri Lankan and his philosophy is consciously founded on spiritual values gleaned from the Buddha.

'Respect for all life' is an essential principle of Buddhism, as it is of Ariyaratne's movement, 'Sarvodaya Shramadana', which means 'awakening, through the sharing of energy for the welfare of all'. The political principle of 'the welfare of all' differs fundamentally from the Western democratic principle of 'the greatest good of the greatest number' which by definition is divisive: the minority's perception of 'good' necessarily being sacrificed to the majority's.

Ariyaratne, the champion of the poorest villages in a poor country, is acidic about 'democratic' elections. The way he sees it, once every four or five years the urban elite 'take their quarrels to the rural areas'. A new form of 'party-less social democracy' (not a one-party system) is what he wants: decentralised, village-level consensus politics. Villagers have to be politically awakened so that they can be self-reliant and no longer the passive recipients of urban 'benevolence'.

Reversing the trickle-down theory must have seemed revolutionary back in the fifties when Sarvodaya started. It's not any more, at least in development circles. It's downright conventional. So why do so many development enthusiasts flock now to Sri Lanka? First, the rhetoric about community self-help may be commonplace but the practice is still rare - for the simple reason that solving the world's hardest problems is excruciatingly difficult. And Sarvodaya works. In 1973, 14 community kitchens fed 732 children. Three years later 452 such kitchens fed over a million children. If that reminds you of charity soup-kitchens, forget it. The villagers find the food themselves and keep their dignity. Each child brings a contribution: a stick of firewood, some edible leaves, a matchbox of rice.

Second, the hundreds of thousands of urban volunteers who have participated in the scheme have lived among the villagers as equals, not experts. For Sri Lankan professionals to live at ease among 'untouchables' indicates how profoundly Sarvodaya transforms attitudes.

But the crucial characteristic of Sarvodaya is also the one that invites the greatest sceptism. All action, it insists, must be compassionate and non-violent: 'We are helping the landless cultivator to liberate himself from the bondage imposed on him by unscrupulous landowners not because we hate the landowner but because we respect the life of the landless'.

Like Gandhi, who is his inspiration, Ariyaratne believes uncompromisingly that only good means can bring good ends. The way to counteract evil, which is highly organised, is to awaken and organise the forces of good in human beings. Individual awakening must be followed by village, national and then global awakening.

Critics argue that Sarvodaya is too soft. Village kitchens succeed because they don't threaten the power system. But will the landowner give up his supremacy to liberate the landless? At some stage, even sympathetic critics fear, sides will have to be taken.

Perhaps the Mahatma has already demonstrated Sarvodaya's answer in his marches and fasting against British rule. Avoiding confrontation was not his purpose. What brought success may have been the palpable innocence of Gandhi and his followers who resisted non-violently. As Peter Nieswand of the London Guardian argued recently, Gandhi's hunger-strikes made a different impact on the British government from those of the IRA because Gandhi had won respect as a saintly man of peace.

Less metaphysical doubts also remain. As Sarvodaya has expanded, critics claim it has itself become more centralised and uniform. And what of the charismatic leader whose infectious exuberance still pours from every page? How far does he still provide the real leadership - from the top down?

Anuradha Vittachi

Collected Works of A. T. Ariyaratne - Vol I
edited by N. Ratnapala (pbk)
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Sarvodaya Research Institute
148 Galle Road, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka
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