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Darwin's Nightmare concerns itself with documenting the inhabitants of the villages on the coast of Lake Victoria, in Tanzanian Africa. Most, if not all, of these villages' economies are based on the capture and exportation of Nile Perch, fish which were introduced to the lake in the 1950s. Completely destroying the lake's ecosystem as invasive species are known to do, the perch population exploded and in the process decimated the native fish populations. Darwin's Nightmare focuses on the consequences of a huge demand for perch in Europe on the Tanzanian natives, who are one of a limitless number of people on the losing end of the social and economic Darwinism that has circled the globe with free markets and capitalism.
The repercussions of European fish menus are devastating. Planes fly in and out of Tanzania daily, their holds packed with fish fillets, while millions of Tanzanians fade into the African landscape below, universally suffering from starvation. In one of the most inhumane sequences ever captured on film, the cargo bed of a truck is filled at a processing plant with leftover fish carcasses, which are dumped on the ground in a local village. The images of malnourished women and children as they scavenge the maggot-infested remains for anything edible should be mandatory viewing for any politician unwilling to finance international humanitarian aid. And the degradation captured in Darwin's Nightmare goes beyond the frames of hungry eyes watching tons of food fly out before their very eyes; men leave their inland villages to fish on the shore, creating a demand for prostitution and the perfect climate for rampant HIV infection. As is usually the case in such situations, the children in Tanzania are hit the hardest. While a representative for the European Union praises the conditions and efficiency of the fisheries, a group of street orphans fight - quite literally - for a meager scrap of food before falling asleep in an alley, their senses lulled from sniffing glue. Even the mind-numbing glue is tied to Lake Victoria's economy of Nile Perch; it is made from the plastic used to wrap the fish.
"I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil." -- Darwin's Nightmare director Hubert Sauper.
Unlike most of the so-called documentary films making the rounds these days, Darwin's Nightmare is an objective account of an atrocious situation. Rather than having a pre-formulated opinion that steers the direction from the start, and without a blowhard director prominently factoring himself into the story, the makers of Darwin's Nightmare conducted interviews and gathered footage that speak for themselves. The film truly does document a situation, and then allows viewers to come to their own terrible conclusions. Of course no documentary is ever completely impartial - simply seeing the situation as a problem or a disaster is a judgment in itself - but Darwin's Nightmare achieves a deeper emotional resonance than most by affording its subjects the courtesy of allowing them to speak for themselves. SEE ALSO: www.darwinsnightmare.com
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.
See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.
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