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