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DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE (director: Hubert Sauper; cinematographer: Hubert Sauper; editor: Denise Vindevogel; cast: Hubert Sauper (Interviewer); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Edouard Mauriat/Antonin Svoboda/Martin Gschlacht/Hubert Toint/Hubert Sauper; Celluloid Dreams/International Film Circuit; 2004-Belgium/Austria/France-in English, French, German, Russian and Swahili with English subtitles)
“It’s a heart-breaking cautionary tale for our times that is more a sociological tract than documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper presents an eye-opening piece of journalism that puts its finger on what’s wrong with globalization by focusing its documentary on the natives of the village of Mwanza, in western Tanzania. It tells of some unknown person in the 1960s placing the non-native giant predator Nile perch into Lake Victoria and how after decades it has wiped out all the other fish in the water that fed the local population. The film presents the grim truth about how this has ruined the local economy and caused a famine in the area while the Nile perch is used to feed the people of Europe and Japan (it’s Tanzania’s main export), and has made the factory owner and other entrepreneurs from the European Union wealthy.

Sauper trains his camera on all the people involved, such as the many homeless children fighting for scraps of food; the native women forced because of economics into prostitution; the Russian pilots, serviced by the prostitutes, who bring in humanitarian aid along with equipment and weapons to fight the nasty African wars and bring back the perch fillets to Western Europe; and the pastor who is faced with an epidemic in AIDS but fails to counsel for condoms because his religion tells him it’s a sin against God to have promiscuous sex.

It’s a heart-breaking cautionary tale for our times that is more a sociological tract than documentary, as it imaginatively shows how through unforeseen circumstances what has evolved is a nightmare for the poor natives that only benefits the rich and those consumers who can afford to have food as a delicacy. It’s essential viewing for those who care to know why globalization is not without its tremendous downside and that one should be wary of letting it go unchecked and in the hands of the amoral politicians (the film only hints but doesn’t explore the possible corruption of the African government in allowing this exploitation of labor and resources) and bottom-line only businessmen. The film is “right on” in its aim to raise the political awareness of the Westerner, who can still do something about the dangers of increasing globalization that turns people into modern day slaves.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”