One doesn’t fire up a DVD entitled The End of Poverty? thinking there are finger-snapping good times on the horizon for the next 90 minutes or so, especially since the red question mark at the end of the film’s title (contrasted with its black text) looms rather ominously. Yet the clear-eyed, straightforward manner in which this affecting documentary — which premiered at Critics’ Week at Cannes last year, and subsequently played at more than 30 international festivals — plumbs its subject matter serves as a powerful natural depressive for anyone with a heart and an ounce of curiosity about the state of the world at large.
Narrated by Martin Sheen, director Philippe Diaz’s film reframes the debate over extreme poverty, laying out the case that while human struggles over resources and land are a fairly natural thing, there in fact exists enough of everything (space, food and resources) for a far more equitable system of national governance and international relations. With a variety of interviews that extend beyond the parameters of just the usual talking heads of academia, Diaz provides a superb thumbnail sketch of the history of colonialism,
and its lingering effects, generations on. Assaying unfair debt, trade and tax policies, the movie imparts important details without becoming overly wonkish.
Part of this owes to the fact that Diaz smartly mixes in case study-type interviews with often surprisingly eloquent laborers who are basically indentured servants. It’s heartbreaking, listening to the Brazilian sugar cane cutter who for 17 years has toiled for the equivalent of under $40 a month, rising at 1 a.m. for breakfast and funding repairs of his own work equipment. Some of the movie’s proposed macro-solutions to poverty are more open to debate, so the film undeniably works best an ire-provoking indictment of conspicuous consumption, particularly amongst certain industrialized nations. With only five percent of the world’s population, the United States still consumes a quarter of its natural resources, and produces around 30 percent of its pollution; overall, less than a fifth of the Earth’s population uses more than 80 percent of its resources. There’s a moral component to this struggle, certainly, but as Diaz also justly, implicitly notes, this sort of path isn’t eternally sustainable — it’s a breeding ground for discontent, radicalism and revolution, and all the further instability that eventually brings.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a snap-release tray, The End of Poverty? comes to DVD on a region-free disc in what’s billed as a “special educational edition,” replete with extra DVD-ROM content and a handful of other disc-situated bonus features. Befitting its area of inquiry, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Swahili subtitles are also included. There’s a downloadable study guide at the film’s web site, but on the DVD there’s 32 minutes of additional interview material with author Susan George, professor Chalmers Johnson, University of Nairobi constitutional law professor Okoth Ogendo and Gitu wa Kahengeri, leader of Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising. There are also trailers for a quartet of other Cinema Libre home video titles. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B- (Disc)