Sunday, December 05, 2010

Recycle, Rob & Report

Waste Land (2010, Brazil/UK, Lucy Walker)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

That beauty can be a woman or a stunning painting. Or it could be a pile of garbage. Or it could be all of those things put together.

Luck Walker's wonderful documentary follows Vik Muniz on his quest to transform objects from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill located in Rio de Janeiro, into a work of art. The first images that he encounters in Jardim Gramacho are large piles of garbage but once Vik interacts with some fascinating garbage pickers, then the mountains of garbage fade into the background and the pickers take center stage. Vik's interactions with the garbage pickers enable some of his artistic ideas to take hold. However, Vik's goal is not to do the art on his own but he wants to involve the workers. Also, he plans to donate the money from the art sales to improve the worker's lives. As a result, his artistic collaborations has the potential to transform the lives of some of the garbage pickers. Waste Land is a beautiful touching film that gives voice to people ignored by society and also provides plenty of life changing ideas especially around garbage generation and recycling.
Inside Job (2010, USA, Charles Ferguson)

The art work pictured above in Waste Land ends being sold for 28,000 pounds at an auction where we don't see all the buyers but instead see their proxies following instructions via phone. Considering that there are paintings which are sold in this auction for more than a few million dollars, 28,000 is a drop in the bucket. But who are some of the people who can afford to buy such expensive works?

In Charles Ferguson's engaging Inside Job we get a glimpse of some people who have the luxury to throw millions at a single painting. Such rich people are never satisfied with just one expensive painting. They want to acquire more. For that they need money. Lots of it. And in that greed for generating money for personal benefit, they will go to great lengths, even at times at the expense of others. Such greed certainly contributed to the economic crisis of 2008. Yet, it would be too easy to blame the greed in the 2008 crisis on bankers and financial employees alone. The average person should also be held accountable for wanting to spend beyond their means. What if the average person didn't get a sub-prime mortgage? In the long run that unsigned deal would have meant one less foreclosure. On the other hand, there were cases when the average person was not greedy but just didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Inside Job gives one example of a couple who didn't speak English and signed up for a quick initial low interest mortgage to get their dream house but were then shocked to discover the real monthly payment amounts once the low interest period ended.

Inside Job lays out the step-by-step process by which banks and financial companies committed the ultimate heist. By documenting this robbery, Ferguson's film may be the only sense of justice for some people because the men who committed the financial crimes will get away with their wealth intact. In the film, the people responsible for dismantling the regulations are named yet these people are widely respected in American universities and media. You can be sure in a few years, some of these same people will be hailed as legends. The banks will always be bailed out and bonuses will never go away in the financial sector. And the huge bonuses will continue to be spent on bigger houses, cars, yachts, drugs and prostitutes. Some people are addicted to drugs while others are addicted to bonuses and financial rewards. If there are no laws to keep a check on irregular financial dealings, then financial fraud will continue.

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country (2008, Denmark co-production, Anders Østergaard)

As documented in Inside Job, the people who questioned the rash financial policies in America were ignored and their words were drowned out by "intelligent" men. If the truth can be plainly ignored in a democracy and financial crimes can still be committed, then one can only imagine how much crime can be committed in a nation where no truth is ever reported. Burma VJ chillingly shows how in a dictatorship reporting images of a peaceful march can be a matter of life and death. Like Inside Job, Burma VJ provides the background story to events that unfolded on television sets around the world. The images of thousands of monks marching on a street were widely seen on tv but the entire process of how those images made it out of Burma was not completely known.
We are supposed to be living in an age of instant information and round the clock news. But the news only seems to report events after they happen. And even then, most media outlets hardly seem to scratch the surface and dig deep to uncover the true story. There are some journalists who have freedom to write the truth but in most cases, one has to wait to read the full story until the journalists publish their books. So in this sense documentaries such as Inside Job and Burma VJ do an excellent job of filling a giant journalistic gap by providing details that often don't get reported via the global media.

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