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Darwin’s Nightmare

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Another trip to a local small cinema brought me Darwin’s Nightmare[IMDB]. The film tries to document the fishing industry around lake Victoria. I heard people talk about this topic while I was in South Africa, so I was curious to see the film and get some more (if somewhat critical) information.

There’s this fish, called Viktoriabarsch in German. It’s been quite popular and easily available in the past years. And it’s perch coming from lake Victoria. The fish actually wasn’t living in the lake until recently which is probably why it’s called Nile perch in English. It must have been ‘imported’ up the Nile to get into the lake. Where, being a predator, it has grown to a huge population and killed many of the indigenous fish species.

So, ecologically the situation isn’t too good. But as Europeans like the fish, a huge industry has grown around it. Catching it in the lake, filleting it and flying it out. And that’s what the film is about. We see how the fishers live and die. We see fish factories. We see little kids living mostly off drugs. We see EU people telling TV cameras how great and ‘world standard’ the fish factories are. We see people eating the rotten leftovers of their fish while the good parts go to Europe.

To get the fish here nice and fresh, it’s actually flown. You are in the middle of Africa with little technology being around and then there are planes which come just to pick up fish. The planes are old Russian ones and the film tries to cover the whole aspect of the pilots who fly (and even fix) the old planes, the low-tech airport and the prostitution going with all this as well. The pilots they interview are Ukrainian and probably not too well off themselves. They do many flights to Africa and try to remain ‘unpolitical’ in all this. Bringing some boxes here, taking some fish from there.

Some images from the film: 1. A plane landing behind a boat with fishermen. 2. A huge fish being fileted. 3. A fillet. It seems appalling that they don’t bring anything to lake Victoria where they take a lot of fish from. And it seems even worse that they deliver weapons on their stopovers on the way there, as is claimed. The film was a bit annoying on that topic as it seemed they always wanted to get the weapon topic on the table when it wasn’t the main topic of the film anyway and nobody really wanted to talk about it.

As for the fishermen around lake Victoria, their lives didn’t seem good for European standards, but there weren’t any complaints to be heard from them. It’s one of those bad situations where you see how everything is fucked up but nobody who is involved actually considers it bad, so nothing changes.

As many other films this one seems to be sponsored by a couple of public European TV stations. I always think that’s quite a cool thing. It still looks like quite a low budget affair with bad cameras and everything. A film worth seeing. But not going to cinema for, as their material seems to be quite low-resolution or generally blurry in many places, so an ordinary telly should do just fine. It’s a documentary which you are not going to see for the aesthetic experience.

What I didn’t like about the film was that it tries to mix the three topics of ecology, food business (or globalisation if you wish) and weapons trade… and fails at this. While the subject of ecology seems central when seeing the film’s title, it is hardly discussed throughout and the aspect of the fish export and weapons import is focused on. But even for those no good connection is established and I think each of those topic may be wide and important enough to merit a documentary on its own. In addition, having both topics crammed into one film – along with what seems to be not-too-good journalism to me – keeps each of them from being treated with enough detail and energy. At many stages the film looks like they wanted to make certain points but just didn’t get the material to make them. That’s unsatisfactory.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

April 5, 2005, 23:43

Tagged as business, darwin's nightmare, ecology, film, fish.

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