Philippe Diaz's The End of Poverty? plays like a video version of "Neoliberalism for Dummies" in the best and worst ways. Exploring how different segments of the developing world remain in grinding poverty, Diaz traces the legacy of colonialism to a modern day corporate imperialism that much squelch million of people to maintain consumer demands of industrialized nations. With an oddly forceful voiceover provided by actor Martin Sheen, the film screened at the venerable Cannes film festival in 2008.
Making the (not entirely graceful) leap from television, Diaz interviews a series of economists, historians, government ministers, academics and labor organizers, complete with title cards of passing statistics and historical factoids. Fairly, he also interviews with people living in extremely stricken circumstances. This latter group is consistently filmed in their home and work environments. The audience reads a title card saying that a family of eight lives in a 15-square foot shack or that sugarcane workers don't have the safety equipment they need to do their back-breaking work. Traditionally, the strength of documentary film is to show us things we are unlikely to experience first-hand. But despite his incredible access to geographically-diverse people who have every reason to distrust an American film-maker, Diaz seems oddly committed to framing his subjects in medium shots that are neither intimate nor provide larger contexts for their interviews.Mono-cropping isn't the most appealing topic on earth. However, it is key to understanding how the shift to an export economy undermines nations' abilities to grow its own food, which leads to high productivity on balance sheet while people starve to death. Diaz does an admirable job explaining how international debt is transferred in ways that make it impossible for poverty-stricken countries to invest in their own infrastructure.
The film is funded by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, a group whose key objective is agrarian reforms. And surprise surprise! When the film rolls around to solutions to worldwide poverty, the only suggestion made is third world land reform.
There's nothing inherently wrong with making a one-sided documentary. Every advocacy group needs something to show at their wine and cheese fundraisers. But a film that purports to be about poverty misses the boat if it fails to mention international trafficking in sex and drugs, the US homeless epidemic or how today's wealth disparity creates tomorrow's terrorists. This is particularly disappointing given that Diaz manages to wrangle interviews from Nobel prize winning economists, a former World Bank president and several heads of state. That he ignores several affinity-building opportunities makes one wonder what the point is at all.An Inconvenient Truth demonstrated that didactic lectures can be an extremely effective recruitment tool. But films like End of Poverty? stumble into the clumsy stereotype that non-fiction storytelling can only be slightly more engaging than the educational filmstrips we used to watch in grade school.
RIYL: The End of America, Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral On a Moving Train, Episode 3: 'Enjoy Poverty', Shadow Billionaire, In the Pit.
The End of Poverty is playing in select cities. In Portland at Living Room Theaters.