Friday, November 28, 2008

Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty

Renzo Martens stikes me as a bit of a prat. After sitting through his documentary film, Enjoy Poverty, I don't think I like him. But I did like his film. Or specifically, I'm glad I've seen it.

His movie makes you think. Cruel or kind, accept or reject, his message is clear and needs to be heard. The poor of Africa will remain poor. He shows how workers' children starve and foreign aid organizations protect the natural resources but not the people. To be employed on a plantation in the Congo is to be enslaved to a life of poverty.

His suggested solution? If it isn't going to change, then let's convince the people to enjoy their poverty. He asserts that their poverty is itself a natural resource, a commodity bought and sold by outside interests, and that since it isn't going away everyone should just try to enjoy it.

Scenes alternate between Renzo with a generator and portable neon "(Please) Enjoy Poverty" sign and scenes of poverty, starvation, death and rotting bodies.

"Is it art or is it a documentary? That is for you to decide." So said the announcer who opened the viewing last night at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam. Well it is a documentary. About a bratty little "artist" who travelled the Congo and filmed. He filmed Africa. And he self-indulgently filmed himself. And he filmed the other photographers who in turn photographed him and his sign. And as you sit in the audience, you get it. It's not subtle.

There are serious problems with the way poverty is handled. Our old solutions are now institutions and they largely support themselves; not the poor. We either need to change things, or we need to convince a lot of people, to Enjoy Poverty.

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