'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Couple of Movies 

Here's a little of Roger Ebert's review of Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's documentary The Take:

As one documentary after another attacks the International Monetary Fund and its pillaging of the Third World, I wish I knew the first thing about global economics. If these films are as correct as they are persuasive, international monetary policy is essentially a scheme to bankrupt smaller nations and cast their populations into poverty, while multinational corporations loot their assets and whisk the money away to safe havens and the pockets of rich corporations and their friends. But that cannot be, can it? Surely the IMF's disastrous record is the result of bad luck, not legalized theft?

I am still haunted by "Life and Debt" (2001), a documentary explaining how tax-free zones were established on, but not of, Jamaican soil. [ ... ]

Now here is "The Take," a Canadian documentary by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, shot in Argentina, where a prosperous middle-class economy was destroyed during 10 years of IMF policies, as enforced by President Carlos Menem (1989-1999). Factories were closed, their assets were liquidated, and money fled the country, sometimes literally by the truckload. After most of it was gone, Menem closed the banks, causing panic. Today more than half of all Argentineans live in poverty, unemployment is epidemic, and the crime rate is scary.

In the face of this disaster, workers at several closed factories attempted to occupy the factories, reopen them and operate them. Their argument: The factories were subsidized in the first place by public money, so if the owners didn't want to operate them, the workers deserved a chance. The owners saw this differently, calling the occupations theft. Committees of workers monitored the factories to prevent owners from selling off machinery and other assets in defiance of the courts. And many of the factories not only reopened, but were able to turn a profit while producing comparable or superior goods at lower prices.

I can't not post the last paragraph of Ebert's review, which is a testament to the power of cinema. Here's Ebert, your average run-of-the-mill liberal; he sees a movie about the IMF's effect on Jamaica and another one on Argentina's economic melt-down, and all of a sudden he's basically defending community-ownership of factories in the pages of the Chicago Sun Times:

I wearily anticipate countless e-mails advising me I am a hopelessly idealistic dreamer, and explaining how when the rich get richer, everybody benefits. I will forward the most inspiring of these messages to minimum-wage workers at Wal-Mart, so they will understand why labor unions would be bad for them, while working unpaid overtime is good for the economy. All I know is that the ladies at the garment factory are turning out good-looking clothes, demand is up for Zanon ceramics, and the auto parts factory is working with a worker-controlled tractor factory to make some good-looking machines. I think we can all agree that's better than just sitting around.

Also, I've been meaning to mention another new documentary, Chavez, Venezuela, and the New Latin America, which I heard about from a review in Seven Oaks Magazine. The movie is mostly just one long interview with Hugo Chavez conducted by Che Guevara's daughter Aleida. Apparently, it is the cinematic companion of a book of the same name. I can't find much online about this film ... it seems like its distribution is a pretty smalltime affair, but here's the site of the company that produced it -- there's going to be screening in New York on March 17th and they're already selling it on DVD.

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