Darwin's Nightmare

Cause-and-effect factors heavily into Hubert Sauper's new documentary film Darwin's Nightmare (screening today through Sunday at the Walker Art Center), all the way down to its conception. In 1997 while working on the film Kisangani Diary, which tracked the plight of Rwandan refugees during the Congolese rebellion, Sauper noticed an odd juxtaposition, two planes carrying very different cargos. One, coming in, was loaded with 45 tons of yellow peas, sent from the US to feed refugees in UN camps. The other, departing the Congo, was filled with 50 tons of filleted fish heading to markets in wealthy European countries. "But soon it turned out that the rescue planes with yellow peas also carried arms to the same destinations," he writes, "so that the same refugees that were benefiting from the yellow peas could be shot at later during the night."

This effect had an unlikely cause: as an experiment in the '60s, Nile perch were introduced into Tanzania's Lake Victoria and wiped out local fish populations. While people living near the lake languished on the brink of starvation, a booming export market for the fish emerged, bringing with it the byproducts of globalization—factories, guns, and corrupt trade officials. Sauper writes, "I tried to transform the bizarre success story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this 'fittest' animal into an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil." The winner of more than a dozen film prizes, including the 2004 European Film Award for Best Documentary, Darwin's Nightmare was praised by New York Times critic A.O. Scott as "an extraordinary work of visual journalism, a richly illustrated report on a distant catastrophe that is also one of the central stories of our time."

More at the Walker Film blog.

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