Director: Hubert Sauper
Topic: An ironic story of survival of the fittest, the doc explores the horrific living conditions of Tanzanian citizens whose local resource, the Nile Perch fish, is exported to Europe on the same planes that bring in guns and ammunition to fuel the ongoing wars in Africa.
Financing: Started off self-financed and then received funds from several European TV networks (most prominently Arte, which put up a third of the budget) and ministries of culture in France, Belgium and Austria.
Budget: Only about $40,000 to shoot, but closer to $500,000 after prints, subtitling, sound mix, etc.
Shooting format: One small DV camera, operated by Sauper himself.
Why it stands out: A complex sociopolitical situation is explored in an uncompromising and hard-hitting fashion that sheds light on the dark side of globalization.
Memorable scene: A Russian pilot breaks down on camera, admitting he knows how the locals, especially children, are suffering, and expressing anguish over his feelings of helplessness.
Distribution/broadcast status: Theatrical release through Intl. Film Circuit/Celluloid Films began in August and is slowly expanding city to city. A DVD release is set for March.
On making the film: The project took four years of Sauper’s life, including seven solid months of shooting during four trips to Tanzania. The local authorities didn’t know what the film’s content would be, but the filmmaker ran into trouble anyway. “I had permission from the government to shoot, and in the first village I tried to show it to the local sheriff. He said, ‘That doesn’t work in my territory.’ When that happens two or three times in a row, you just stop trying to be legal,” Sauper says. “Once, we got arrested, but we didn’t know why. We understood later that someone said we were making porno films because we were filming the prostitutes. No one knew that the real issue of the film was arms trafficking.” For Sauper it was impossible not to get attached to the people he filmed, but he made a conscious choice to stay off-camera. “People ask, ‘How can you film the kids in the street and not interfere?’ But that’s one of a thousand similar moments. I don’t want to film myself being the hero. My work is to document and communicate what’s happening.”