Friday, June 12, 2009
Jamaica for Sale
I am attempting to institute a new feature on my blog this summer, a film review segment on Fridays. And anything is fair game: contemporary Hollywood fare, new independent features, on-line shorts, documentaries. Everything. For the most part, I'll try to highlight films that I think Brainstorm readers may not already know, but I might also put my own spin on the much-hyped movie of the moment. Wherever the spirit moves me.
This week, I want to mention a documentary, Jamaica for Sale, produced by Esther Figueroa and Diana McCaula, two activists and media-makers based in Jamaica. The film screened last week as part of the 2009 Caribbean Studies Association conference in Kingston, Jamaica. (I was down there both for the conference and as part of an ethnographic film shoot of my own.)
A low-budget feature-length documentary shot in mini-DV, Jamaica for Sale takes a critical look at the impact of tourism, Jamaica's most lucrative industry, on that island's social, economic and environmental well-being. In the spirit of another relatively recent filmic critique of tourism in Jamaica, Stephanie Black's Life and Debt, the movie depicts the country's all-eggs-in-one-basket dependence on tourism as a kind of Faustian pact, a self-defeating commitment to the inevitabilities of globalization, and on terms that are hardly beneficial to the island and its inhabitants.
The film juxtaposes the luxuries of high-end tourism with the everyday exploitation of Jamaican workers, some of whom are asked to spend more than eight-hours a day constructing hotels for about $1 an hour in US currency. (The depreciation of Jamaican currency over the decades is another vital part of this tragic storyline.)
This documentary about the oft-hidden downsides of globalization and "unsustainable development" attempts to deconstruct the tourism-based imagery of Jamaica as sandy beaches and smiling natives (see the Youtubed commercial above), replacing it with a bifurcated landscape of elite, privatized and cosmopolitan leisure propped up by the grinding details of local poverty, a poverty exploited by employment policies of big businesses with transnational interests and by large and small governmental complicities that exacerbate such material deprivation.
The film allows some of the workers to speak for themselves (in a few of its most riveting scenes), and it asks experts to help audience members to make sense of the historical context that laid the foundation for the Caribbean's current predicament.
Some of this stuff you've probably heard or seen before, but a good deal of this narrative (and the specific cases chosen by these filmmakers) will be completely new to a lot of viewers.