Monday, November 9, 2009

Bullshit from Cinema Politica

For all my good intentions, I keep forgetting to write about the films I see.

This week I managed to make it to Cinema Politica's pick of the week, Bullshit. Contrary to all advertising attempts that try to sell this film on the poop, it is about the Indian food-farming activist Vandana Shiva and her fight against corporations. She is shown in action, standing up to Monsanto and Coca Cola, as well as making appearances at the ever overhyped World Trade Organization meetings.

I think i should begin by stating the following: I am not opposed to genetically modified foods. Although I am not impressed with large scale agriculture and mono-crop economies, I have absolutely nothing against genetically modified foods. If we produce genetically modified insulin, that's fine. If we can treat genetic diseases by altering the genes, that's fine. But, if we can grow a corn plant that requires less water, that's dangerous! Well, I'm not entirely convinced. But, then again, I do have certain admiration for science's wonder babies. I am willing to change my opinion in the face of evidence. Good evidence, that is. I also take proud activist stances when I have seen gross abuses, such as Walmart's strikebusting. I don't shop at Walmart. Neither should you.In sum, I try to remain neutral until something has convinced me one way or the other on a particular issue.

Perhaps it is my neutrality that caused me to watch Vandana Shiva with a certain amount of revulsion. The cameras follow this petulant, incessant, pushy Indian woman around the world as she speaks on behalf of her cause. When the photo op moment comes, such as the day of the big announcement of a court decision, she is present. I never really understood her reasons for opposing Monsanto, except that she connected the company with a series of Indian farmer suicides.

It is not that I think her work unimportant. Rather, this is a case of some sloppy film making that did not present the issues in a meaningful or considered manner. Shiva is shown as a scattered, overworked, good natured freedom fighter. The companies are presented as sterile, out of touch, almost sinister colonialists. I was under the impression that the filmmakers didn't remotely understand what genetically modification to a food was -- neither the process nor the purpose. I further didn't see questioning of Vandana Shiva, who struck me as rather sinister in her own way with her cult-like farming and somewhat empty speeches about seeds being a good. The most egrigeous filmmaking concerned the Coca Cola company in the Kerala region of India. Why didn't the filmmakers follow up to see what happened to the region when the Coca Cola company shut its doors in the area. The situation is far more complicated than the filmmakers imply -- rainwater shortages are frequent in the area and other activities affect the water, not just the Coca Cola company. I would have preferred to see a more balanced and nuanced presentation of the culpability of Coca Cola in the water problems of this region. However, the film points a finger at the easy target without presenting a full story.

All in all, this film simply repeats beloved party lines for those that are already sold on the cause. However, for a fence sitter like myself, with some critical awareness, I was left unconvinced of Shiva's merits and the corporations' guilt. Instead. I saw a film made by those with an agenda twisting a story to serve their purposes. Boo.

For all I disliked Bullshit, I rather loved the opening short, the Bicycle. This film followed Pax, who bikes 20 miles a day to visit villagers of the Zomba district of Malawi, Africa. The grassroots movement under the banner of the group DIGNITAS to help stop the spread of AIDS and treat those already inflicted, but unaware of the benefits of ARV (anti-retro-viral) drugs is one that makes me proud to be a human being. In fact of such incredible suffering and sadness, men and women are doing their part to better the lives of others. Bravo to the NFB director in residence Katerina Civek for this moving gem.

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